To bolster western Montana's ability to eat close to home, protecting the land that feeds us has never been more important, or more urgent. CFAC is working to comprehensively conserve the lands most viable for farming & ranching in a way that respects the interests of landowners and provides predictability to developers, planners, policy makers, and residents. Of course, to truly protect the working landscape, farms and ranches have to be able to turn a profit and the next generation of producers needs to be able to get started. That's why CFAC is also assisting beginning farmers and ranchers in accessing agricultural land, and building markets to support working farms and ranches.
Farm and ranchland is the backbone of our rural communities and community food security. Without agricultural land, there are no working farms, no ranches, and no food. Furthermore, the land use decisions we make today will affect the generations that follow us. (See more reasons to conserve farmland here.) To find solutions to farm and ranchland conservation, CFAC members are working together to:
The approval of a subdivision is the key moment that decides the future of a farm or ranch. That is, when local government approves a proposal to convert an entire farm to houses and driveways, that piece of fertile land will likely never support a working farm again, and often nearby farms are impacted by the change in their community.
Since 2008, CFAC members have been providing written comment and public testimony on proposals to subdivide farmland. Our Land Use & Agricultural Viability Committee reviews the proposal and visits the site to assess the developmnet plan's potential impacts to agriculture. Thus far, we have reviewed and commented on 28 subdivision proposals, slating to build houses on over 1,500 acres of agricultural land. Check out this map showing all of the subdivisions CFAC has commented on thus far.
Read more about CFAC's work to review subsivisionsby clicking here.
Notice that the future residential lots have been placed on the prime agricultural soils (shown in red). Unfortunately, this is often the case, as farmland tends to be flat, well drained, and cheaper to build on.
Prime Farmland just West of Missoula carries some of the highest development pressures in the County. Unfortunately, these soils are some of the most fertile in the entire state.
In 2009 and 2010, CFAC members looked at the loss of farmland in Missoula County from 30,000 feet up. We researched the state of agriculture in the County and how development patterns are impacting the community's food security. In April 2010, we released the report, Losing Ground: The Future of Farms and Food in Missoula County.
Losing Ground showed that Missoula County lost 29,000 acres of working farm and ranchlands between 1986 and 2008. On average, that's 3 football fields of agricultural land that will no longer be able to feed Missoula's increasing population or support a working farm. But we also found that the County still has a 87,000 acres of grazing land and 16,000 acres of cropland that are still productive agricultural lands. Current habitants will either allow the status quo development patterns to continue to whittle away these agricultural resources, or we will find a way to protect our agricultural legacy and future food security. Losing Ground offered policy recommendations to the City and County of Missoula to conserve the remaining farm and ranchlands, and CFAC members continue to work towards seeing the these conservation tools adopted.
Over the past several years, CFAC members have researched farmland conservation tools that best fit our landscape, political dynamics, and development patterns. Based on the recommendations in Losing Ground, CFAC is now working to secure policies and tools -- both carrots and sticks -- that 1) comprehensively protect the most productive agricultural lands; 2) provide predictability for developers, planners, policy makers and consumers; 3) facilitate producers’ access to agricultural land; and 4) respect the interests of agricultural landowners and the equity built into their land. We simply cannot protect the agricultural landscape as a matrix of working farms and ranches through solely reviewing individual subdivisions, one by one. This piecemeal approach is also highly risky and unpredictable for developers, planners, elected officials, and eaters.
To respond to state-wide interest in conserving farmland through land use planning, CFAC has launched the Ag Land Network of Montana. Participants across the state will learn from one another about community solutions to the loss of farmland. Network participants will be able to share resources and strategies, as well as speak in a unified voice for Montana's working farm and ranchlands. All are invited to join this free Network.