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.