Newer laws help preserve farmland

On the Farm column

The article in last week’s ag column by John Parker got me to thinking about the statistics on farmland. Thanks to the Internet, you can find statistics on farmland over the last 20 years.

In 1997, farmland represented 42.2 percent of the total land in the U.S. and in 2007 it was down to 41.4 percent. It was a drop of 0.8 percent, which doesn’t seem too bad until you realize that 18 million acres of farmland was lost.

From 2007 to 2017, the amount of farmland lost was 11 million acres, a decrease of 0.6 percent. A little better, but still a downward trend.

This downward trend did not start in 1997 but many years earlier. It did not go unnoticed by our elected officials. In 1982, the Ohio General Assembly took action to help preserve Ohio farmland. They passed Senate Bill 78, which is commonly referred to as Ohio’s Farmland Preservation Act.

This important legislation created agricultural districts to promote the preservation of agricultural land. These ag districts are voluntary and can provide benefits to help farmers keep farming.

One of the benefits is you have a legal defense against nuisance lawsuits. Your agricultural operation is protected if it meets four criteria: it’s in an agricultural district; it was established prior to the neighbors who are suing; the neighbors suing aren’t farmers; and the farm-related activities don’t violate any other laws and are done in accordance with acceptable agricultural practices.

Another benefit deals with the deferment of development assessments until land is changed to nonagricultural use.

When new water, electric or sewer lines are added or extended, the cost is often assessed to the property owner based on their road frontage. These costs can add up quickly for a farmer.

My family knows this scenario all too well. Years ago, when mud roads were being improved to gravel roads, Leroy Thompson and Plank roads were targeted in the same year. My great-grandfather was a modest farmer, as most were at that time, and his farm was where these two roads met. The farm wasn’t large but did have considerable frontage on both roads.

Because of this, the tremendous assessments that were levied upon him were more than he could financially and mentally handle. My great-grandma moved the four kids to Painesville and began teaching school.

If your land is in an ag district, this legislation places additional restrictions upon eminent domain actions. If more than 10 acres or 10 percent (whichever is greater) of any one property is proposed, the law calls for a review by the state director of agriculture to determine if an alternative is possible.

I wonder how this would have been applied when the Smallsreeds’ and many others’ farms were acquired through eminent domain for the creation of the Ravenna Arsenal (present-day Camp James Garfield)?

The qualifications to be in an ag district are the same as for the Current Agricultural Use Value (CAUV) program. You must have at least 10 acres used for agricultural production or activities for three years and have an average yearly gross income of at least $2,500 during that time period.

I hope you won’t have need for the added protection that being in an ag district provides, but if you qualify, why not participate? The application for an ag district can be found on the county auditor’s website at www.auditor.co.trum bull.oh/us. It is listed on the main page under the title “Agricultural Forms.”

Already in an ag district? Great, but don’t forget to renew this designation every five years.

If you have questions, give us a call at our regional Farm Bureau office at 440-426-2195.

Smallsreed is a member of the Trumbull County Farm Bureau and grew up on a family dairy farm in northeast Ohio.

COMMENTS