The United States is home to an extraordinary agricultural landscape. Not only does America’s extremely fertile farmland feed both the country and the world, it also powers state and local economies and international trade. Unfortunately, this farmland faces threats from various economic and demographic pressures, including an ever-expanding population.
America currently loses more than 40 acres of farm and ranch land every hour, or about 1,000 acres a day. Without change, this trend is likely only to increase, particularly given the rapid development of areas such as the southeastern United States in recent years.
In southeastern states like Georgia, the conversion of farmland for development is particularly acute. Between 1982 and 2012, developed land acreage in Georgia increased from 2.2 to 4.6 million acres, and Georgia now has more developed land than farmland. Moreover, farmland in Georgia has decreased approximately 36% over the last 30 years. Unsurprisingly, Georgia currently ranks fourth among all U.S. states in farmland converted for development purposes.
Fortunately, there are ways to combat this apparent trend and preserve America’s precious farmland. Conservation easements, voluntary and legally-binding agreements that limit the future development of land forever, are a critically important tool in the effort to protect our nation’s most important land resources.
However, some groups want to restrict all but the wealthiest landowners from using the conservation easement donation. The current conservation easement tax incentive recognized by Congress in Section 170(h) of the Internal Revenue Code has received bipartisan support, having been approved by both the Bush and Obama administrations. Without it, more farmland will be developed into strip malls, condos, and subdivisions.
What’s important to remember is that all conservation is good conservation, regardless of who is doing the conserving. In recent years, conservation partnerships have protected approximately 5,000 acres from development in Georgia alone, not to mention hundreds of thousands of acres nationwide. With more lands being conserved than ever before, why would we turn back on a system that has been working as intended?
While the current system is working as intended and has helped to spur land conservation, there are always improvements that can be made to any law. Partnership for Conservation (P4C), a diverse coalition of conservation stakeholders in more than 40 states, has developed legislative proposals that would curb limited instances of abuse but also ensure that the significant expansion of private conservation can continue to grow.
These legislative proposals include:
We should be encouraging more land conservation, not limiting access to participation. P4C’s common sense legislative proposals will ensure land conservation continues to expand in a responsible way. The notion of “all conservation is good conservation” is a goal we should all embrace.