AGRICULTURE & GARDENING: Ensuring we have wide, open spaces | PostIndependent.com

AGRICULTURE & GARDENING: Ensuring we have wide, open spaces

Curt Swift
CURT’S CORNER
Free Press Gardening Columnist

Whenever I drive by farmland that is being converted to a parking lot or housing development, I wonder what is going wrong with the world.

While we need housing and places for people to shop, we also need land to grow the food and fiber required for us to live. The most productive farmland is often taken out of production instead of building the housing development or shopping center on non-arable land — land that can't be used by agriculture. Locally, the Mesa Land Trust has been working to ensure these lands are kept in agricultural production for decades to come.

Sadly, many agricultural producers can't always find someone in their family who is able to or willing to take over the farm or locate someone who can afford the cost of purchasing the land even at agricultural prices. With the prices developers might be willing to offer for the land, it is no wonder agricultural land in the U.S. is disappearing at the rate of one acre per minute. Colorado has lost over close to two million acres of agricultural land to development in the last decade.

The National Resources Inventory developed by USDA-NRCS shows that 500,000 to one million acres of Colorado farm land was converted to other uses between 1982 and 2002. While one can assume the rate of farm land loss slowed during this past recession, as the economy improves, the loss of agricultural land to other uses will most likely increase.

Developers often point to the increase in taxes due to converting ag land to residential development. Reviews of the cost of services for these newly developed developments reveals "$1.24 in community services for every $1 of tax revenue generated, while agriculture demanded only $0.38 in services per $1 of tax revenue contributed." The report from which this quote was extracted was written by Roger Coupal and Andy Seidl of Colorado State University and highlights the fact that putting new residential developments in agricultural zones is not the wisest approach especially when communities and counties complain about adequate funding for their various departments.

The way we as concerned citizens can help protect America's most precious soil resources is to support conservation easements such as those facilitated by the Mesa Land Trust. Mesa Land Trust was founded 33 years ago with the mission is to protect agricultural lands, wildlife habitat, and open space in and around Mesa County to benefit the community at large.

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"The natural lands that surround us are a precious resource. The farms & ranches, the wildlife habitat, the scenic natural areas, define this place we call home. These lands contribute to our quality of life, to our economy, to our well-being. This place matters and is worth fighting for." — Rob Bleiberg, executive director of Mesa Land Trust.

This past year, MLT has partnered with landowners and the community and conserved nine properties and about 1,000 acres of land. Currently, there are more than 45 family farms around the Palisade area that have been conserved for perpetuity. This accounts for about a quarter of the fruit-producing land in Mesa County. Other accomplishments of the MLT include the conservation of 25 miles of migratory habitat in Plateau Valley and 75 percent of the irrigated land on Glade Park.

How does this work? According to the Land Trust Alliance website, "land trusts can purchase land for permanent protection, … accept donations of land or the funds to purchase land, accept a bequest, or accept the donation of a conservation easement, which permanently limits the type and scope of development that can take place on the land. In some instances, land trusts also purchase conservation easements." Conservation easements permanently protect farmland and eliminate the uncertainty of what is going to happen to the farmer's long-term investment.

How can you be part of the effort to keep wild lands wild and agricultural lands agricultural? Donation of your time and treasure to the Mesa Land Trust is certainly one way you can assist in this effort. Keep in mind donations of land, conservation easements or money may qualify you for income or gift tax savings. Identifying agricultural landowners, even with small acreages, who might be interested in seeing their property being kept viable as wildlife habitat or for agricultural production and notifying MLT of these owners is also recommended. You might also want to set up an appointment at 970-263-5443 or walk into their office at 1006 Main St. in Grand Junction to see how you can be of assistance in making Mesa County a better place to call home.

Dr. Curtis E. Swift is a retired horticulture agent with the Colorado State University Extension. Reach him at Curtis.Swift@alumni.colostate.edu, 970-778-7866 or check out his blog at http://SwiftsGardeningBlog.blogspot.com. He owns Swift Horticultural Consulting and High Altitude Lavender.