Agriculture has long been an important industry in Licking County, and a dominant part of this County's landscape. Current trends in the development of housing, business, and other non-agricultural industries, however, are rapidly changing the landscape of Licking County and threatening its agricultural industry and way of life. The Licking County Farmland Preservation Task Force was formed on November 13, 2000 by the Licking County Board of Commissions (Commissioners Journal 32-436) to develop the Licking County Farmland Preservation Plan. The Task Force was charged with developing a plan to preserve precious farmland in the County. The Task Force embraced this charge broadly, considering ways to protect the agricultural industry, community, and way of life in Licking County, while allowing for the responsible development of industry, business, and housing.
The Task Force spent eight months learning about historical trends in farmland loss in the County, the economic and community benefits of farmland preservation, and the tools available to achieve that goal. In the period between 1959 and 1997, the number of farms in Licking County has been halved. In the fifteen years between 1982 and 1997, the value of farmland has nearly doubled (to $2,497/acre). Contributing to the loss of farmland is the aging farm population (the majority of farmers are over 65 years of age), and they may no longer farm and have no one to take over and continue the farm. The rising cost of farmland makes it exceedingly difficult for young farmers to get started.
The Task Force developed and implemented the Licking County Landowners Survey, which was sent to landowners registered in the Current Agricultural Use Valuation (CAUV) program. CAUV registered land owners were chosen in order to elicit the opinions of those County residents who are involved in agriculture. Surveys were mailed to a random sample of 387 CAUV registered landowners; 236 (61%) were returned. Respondents indicate strong support for farmland protection goals, programs to strengthen the agricultural industry, and preservation of the rural character of the County. The findings of the CAUV survey were compared to those from a previous survey of the general public by the Licking County Planning Commission (The Licking County Community Attitude Survey). The earlier survey of Licking County residents obtained similar results, showing broad support for the preservation of agricultural resources. This strong evidence of County residents' desire to preserve farmland was taken as a mandate by the Task Force. The Task Force thus calls on local decision makers - County Commissioners, Township Trustees, and elected and appointed officials in the municipalities of the County -- to adopt the following plan for farmland preservation. The Task Force presents this plan with the belief that it will provide the communities of Licking County with the tools they need to control their own futures.
Basic tools include comprehensive plans and proper zoning, and this plan urges that they be used in order to preserve farmland. Comprehensive planning is a powerful means by which townships, municipalities, and the County can envision their future and achieve that vision. In the context of farmland preservation, the comprehensive plan can identify those areas to be protected for agriculture and those areas in which development (commercial, industrial, or residential) is to be encouraged through appropriate zoning. Proper zoning then provides the legal mechanism to guide the vision of the comprehensive plan. This plan also endorses the use of the following tools:
CAUV is important in providing preferential assessment to reduce the tax burden on farmers, but alone is unable to preserve farmland in the face of development pressure. The Task Force believes that the recoupment period should be lengthened and the money designated to fund purchase of development rights programs. The Task Force calls on local elected officials to sponsor a State Bill that would make it a local option to extend the recoupment period and use the funds for farmland preservation initiatives.
Agricultural Districts are a valuable means of encouraging and protecting commercial agriculture. The Task Force calls upon local planning and government officials to explore opportunities for creating Agricultural Districts and for educating the public about its benefits.
Right to Farm laws provide a clear message to those moving into a rural area that agriculture is valued and supported by the community. The Task Force recommends that zoning ordinances include an Agricultural Use Notice, and that all new and current residents on any property in or adjacent to an agricultural zone be warned that noise, dust, odors, and sprays are generated by neighboring agricultural operations.
Zoning based on a comprehensive plan is the best tool available for the preservation of farmland. The purpose of zoning is to prevent land use conflicts. Agriculture is exempt from zoning, but using zoning districts such as sliding scale zoning and cluster development allows development to occur while larger tracts of land are still preserved for agriculture. Vigorously promote the use of Agricultural Conservation Easements through:
The sale, transfer, or donation of development rights is one way to place an agricultural conservation easement on a piece of land. An agricultural easement protects farmland by allowing landowners to retain title to their property and transfer or sell it however they wish. However, the easement ensures that the land will be used for farming and protects it from development in perpetuity. Purchase of Development Rights is currently funded in the State of Ohio through the Clean Ohio Fund. Licking County officials should encourage the State of Ohio to continue to fund this program at the current level and increase funding for this program in the future so that more acreage may be preserved. Local funds should be made available to serve as the required 25% local match to qualify for state funds. Land can be donated in lieu of matching money. Local governments and non-profits conservancy groups should be educated and encouraged to support this program and to enact educational and promotional programs for land owners. Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) allows landowners to transfer development rights from one piece of property to another. This enables communities to shift development away from agricultural areas and direct it to areas targeted for growth under a comprehensive plan. TDR works most effectively where regional coordination is strong. TDR is not currently permitted in Ohio but being considered in the legislature; the Task Force encourages local elected officials to actively support passage of the enabling legislation that will allow this program to be developed. Donation of Development Rights should also be encouraged. Under this program, landowners may donate all or a percentage of the development rights value of their land. The Task Force calls for a strong informational program to educate landowners about the potential tax and other benefits of the donation of development rights.
The best way to preserve farmland in Licking County is to preserve the agricultural industry. The results of the landowner survey show clearly that farmers want more information about alternative crops and new marketing ventures, thus, the Task Force calls for a wide variety of programs that will support and strengthen agriculture in Licking County. No single tool alone can solve the problem of farmland loss. No tool is effective without someone to wield it. It is essential that those making decisions about the future of this County be committed to using these tools.
The success of any farmland preservation plan requires a commitment to educating the public as well as public officials about the benefits of farmland preservation and the means of accomplishing it. The Task Force recommends that a position of Licking County Farmland Preservation Coordinator be established. This may be in the County government or as part of a Non-Profit entity. This coordinator's duties would include educating the public about farmland preservation and providing information and assistance to public officials. The Task Force believes that with strong oversight the goals of the plan and the will of Licking County citizens will be achieved. The Task Force urges Licking County decision makers to implement the recommendations of this Report. The Task Force considers this document becomes a first step in an ongoing process of preserving agriculture and precious agricultural resources in Licking County. CLICK HERE (PDF 48.3 MB) to view AGRICULTURE FOR TOMORROW - THE LICKING COUNTY FARMLAND PRESERVATION PLAN