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:
- Review & comment on subdivision proposals and their potential impacts to agriculture.
- Map the lands that are the most viable for farming and ranching as well as the subdivision trends that threaten these dwindling resources. Over the past 2 years, Missoula County has conducted a robust public process to gather input for updating Missoula’s Land Use Map, in accordance with the County Growth Policy. The Missoula Area Land Use Element is a long-range planning tool that will guide growth while securing specific conservation goals over the next 20 years.
- Secure conservation tools that will comprehensively protect the agricultural landscape for working farms and ranches. Proactive and comprehensive land use policy is the third prong of CFAC’s strategy to protect Missoula County’s legacy of working farms and ranches.For decades, Missoula County residents have been talking about the loss of farmland due to unfettered development patterns. Now, it is essential that our local governments implement a predictable development review process that comprehensively conserves the resources that sustain farms and feed people.
To address the loss of farmland at the point of its permanent conversion to development, CFAC is working to secure land use policies with these goals in mind:
- Comprehensively protect the agricultural lands that are most viable for farming & ranching.
- Provide predictability to developers, planners, policy makers, and residents.
- Facilitate producers’ access to agricultural land.
- Respect the interests of agricultural landowners and the equity built in their land.
Why Conserve Farmland?
With western Montana’s agricultural lands disappearing at such alarming rates, one might ask why does farmland matter? In fact, some even argue that agricultural land does not matter — that we can continue to increasingly depend on far away farms and industrial agriculture to produce our food. Here are just a few reasons why Montanans should care about farm and ranchland for current and future generations:
- Community food security. With rising oil prices, increasing food shortages, and a changing global climate, we need to enhance and retain the ability to feed ourselves, as well as future generations
- Economic development opportunities. Markets for locally grown and processed foods are expanding across western Montana, putting more money into the hands of farmers, ranchers, and rural communities. But these growing markets depend on the land remaining productive and available for agriculture.
- Farmland is finite and irreplaceable. Good soil takes thousands of years to be created, and just a fraction of the landscape has topsoils suitable for agriculture. Only 8% of Missoula County’s land base has agriculturally important soils, and much of that lies along the valley floor, directly in the path of development. Many of these farm and ranchlands have already been lost, although no comprehensive inventory exists. We simply cannot manufacture good soil.
- Efficient use of tax payer dollars. Agricultural land generates more in local tax revenues than it costs in government services. On average, for every incoming tax dollar, residential land costs a local government $1.19 to service, while farm and ranchlands cost $0.39.
- Social, cultural, and historic values. Working farms and ranches create a sense of place in Missoula County and throughout western Montana. They are part of our heritage and vital to our legacy.
- Ecological integrity. Well-managed agricultural land provides ecosystem services, such as flood control, groundwater recharge, wildlife habitat, carbon banking, and open space.