Farmland at Risk CARROLL COUNTY

July 20, 1993

Agriculture is under great pressure in Carroll, so it was not surprising to find the county included in the dozen regions nationally where agriculture is most threatened by urban sprawl. Carroll residents have known this for the past decade as 17,000 acres of productive cropland here became subdivisions. The real value of this latest assessment is that it puts Carroll's plight into a broader context and adds a message of urgency.

Carroll and eight other Maryland counties are in the fourth most-threatened farm region in the United States, behind California's Central Valley, South Florida and the California coast around Monterey. Carroll is among 20 counties in Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and New Jersey where during the past decade 300,000 acres of cropland were lost forever to houses, offices, shopping centers and parking lots.

Although the nation continues to have a food surplus, the flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri rivers demonstrates the danger of concentrating agricultural production in just a few regions. Many farmers in the Midwest have experienced total crop failure in recent years because of too much or too little water.

In Carroll, even under the extreme drought conditions of two years ago farmers were able to salvage as much as half their crop. By turning fields into cookie-cutter subdivisions, however, we are losing not just green vistas, but our ability to feed ourselves.

To their credit, Carroll's public officials began an agricultural land preservation program 15 years ago. More than a fifth of the county's 100,000 acres of agricultural land is now permanently dedicated to farming. The county continues to be a leader in promoting preservation, but escalating land values have made the task more expensive. The loss of farms is beginning to heat up again -- 1,300 acres were sold off last year -- after the recession slowed the annual losses to about half that amount in 1990 and '91.

While zoning and land use play a role in saving agriculture, other factors -- ranging from global grain prices to a family's decision to pass along its farm to the next generation -- often determine whether agriculture will continue. But without zoning that favors agricultural uses, the pressure to develop prime farmland in metropolitan areas becomes irresistible.

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