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Development 'cannibalizing the hand that feeds us'

By MITCH LIES Capital Press 12/29/11

Oregon farmland generates long-term value that can eclipse short-term gains from development, according to a new report from the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

The report, available on the ODA website, shows that converting farmland for short-term economic gains "may not always be in the best interest of the community or the surrounding environment."

Agricultural land provides many economic, ecological and cultural benefits in perpetuity, including many not immediately apparent, the report states, including wildlife habitat, viewscape, tourist attraction and carbon sequestration.

"Many planners, developers and economists do not properly account for the value of these perpetual benefits ... when evaluating land use comparison based on snap-shot economics," the report stated.

The report was produced by Brent Searle, an economist and special assistant to ODA Director Katy Coba.

Searle said he produced the report to remind people of the need to keep farmland in agricultural production.

"I think we need to keep the public and policymakers informed around these issues, particularly as the world population continues to increase," Searle said.

"People have seen the numbers, but I don't think they connect the numbers with the source of the products needed to sustain the world," he said.

The report notes that the world population is projected to reach 9 billion in another 30 to 40 years.

"People need places to live and they need services that require development," Searle said. "But the more we expand onto our agricultural land, it's like cannibalizing the hand that feeds us. We need to be very thoughtful and cautious about where and how we build."

Searle said he "synthesized" several different sources and perspectives in developing the report.

In one case study, Searle said he found that Washington County was losing 2 to 3 percent of its farmland per year.

"The 16 million acres of farmland we have in Oregon seems like a lot of land, but we need to maintain it in large enough segments so it is viable for agriculture," Searle said.

"If we chip away at it, pretty soon the infrastructure crumbles around it because you don't have the volume to support that cluster of agriculture," he said.

The 11-page report, titled "A Comprehensive Valuation of Agriculture," can be accessed on the ODA website:


A Comprehensive Valuation of Agricultural Lands: A Perpetual Investment in Oregon's Economy and Environment: www.oregon.gov/ODA/news/111221land.shtml

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