Why did we pave over farmland?


I recently addressed Xenia City Council at a public meeting concerning the proposed development planned for the Stevenson Road and U.S. 42 area.

My concern was based on the loss of approximately 200 acres of productive farmland if the development was accepted. According to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture Soil survey of Greene County much of the area in question is composed of Westland soils which is prime farmland if drained. In talking with the farmer who has farmed the land, the area is very productive in most years without additional drainage. Farmers currently rent more than 40 percent of the land they farm from landowners who are retired farmers or not farmers. Losing productive land has an impact on local farmers being able to utilize productive soils in raising crops and keeping grain and food prices down. The result is farmers must travel farther to rent productive land to make farming economically feasible in many cases.

Growing up on a farm in western Champaign County, I quickly learned the importance of productive soils in making a living farming. These soils hold water better and tend to have more nutrients available for plants thus requiring fewer inputs to enable a crop to grow well. Available nutrients in the soil also have an influence on the nutritional quality of the crop being raised. If the soil lacks nutrients the fruit, vegetables, and grain will likely lack those same nutrients. Those animals, people, and pets eating the crops from these areas may have to supplement their diet with the missing nutrients to stay healthy.

The water-holding capacity of a soil is a major part of raising crops including forages for livestock vegetables, fruits, and cereal grains. As a former OSU Extension agriculture educator, I saw this problem in many areas of Greene County where farmers tried to grow crops on land that was not as productive and yields of corn, soybeans, and wheat were lower than other parts of the township or county. Rainwater would run off the land as opposed to infiltrating the soil to be available to the crops being grown. These soils tended to be high in clay and have low organic matter.

The other part of this dilemma is farmland taken out of agriculture and used for housing or other non-farm uses is lost forever for food and animal production. It is not economically feasible to manufacture productive soils on this scale and raise crops, fruit trees, etc. If you live in a housing development or in a plat, it is likely you may struggle with similar problems in having a nice lawn, raising a garden, or keeping landscape plants alive/healthy. In many cases your building site had much of the topsoil scraped off during construction, leaving a lot of clay, rocks, and gravel. You can spend hundreds of dollars trying to get grass and other plants to grow in such areas.

Greene County has already lost several thousand acres of farmland to development for non-farm use. Just look at the southern and southwestern boundary of Xenia. As a country, the U.S. has lost more than 55 million acres of farmland from 1997-2017 according to the U.S. Census of Agriculture. That is an area nearly twice the size of Ohio. The State of Ohio has lost approximately one million acres of farmland in the same period, which is equal to over three counties the size of Greene.

We are fortunate that the State of Ohio launched an Agricultural Easement Purchase Program in 2008 designed to save our most productive farmland. To date, more than 105,000 acres of productive farmland have been protected from non-agricultural use. Locally, the Tecumseh Land Trust has worked with farmers and landowners to protect more than 36,000 acres of prime farmland primarily in Greene and Clark counties from non-farm development. As you can see, this is only a small portion of the prime agricultural soils located in these counties as well as Ohio.

Early settlers to Greene County came looking for good farmland and water. As time has passed, we tend to think there is a bottomless supply of productive land for raising our food and animals. In talking with Xenia City Planner Brian Forschner, when ask if the soil quality was ever considered when deciding whether to annex a particular area for non-farm use, he said “no.” He was not aware of any food shortages, and he felt it was Xenia’s responsibility to provide housing to the people working in adjacent areas like Jeffersonville where a battery plant is being built. It was up to the developer to change the land to meet their building requirements.

I propose we are all in this together to help preserve a valuable resource for everyone regardless of whether we live on a farm or in an incorporated area. Our history is filled with civilizations who failed to protect valuable resources like productive farmland, clean water, trees, or other resources. I propose we have the challenge of protecting or wisely using the natural resources in the U.S.

At the time I was addressing the Xenia City Council, there was a special program on PBS titled “The American Buffalo” by Ken Burns. The killing of millions of buffalo for fun or just to harvest the tongues or hides was truly a black page in our nation’s history. There were so many buffalo (estimated sixty million) that many people thought they would always be plentiful. Almost all buffaloes were killed in the U.S. because of these buffalo hunts. Near the end of this period in our history a few forward-thinking individuals made the decision to try to save the species in America by collecting some buffalo from the U.S. and Canada for breeding.

The plan worked and we were able to raise more buffalo, but the numbers were dwarfed in relation to what there were in the early 1800s in the U.S. In the case of productive cropland being lost, we do not have the choice to go back and reproduce the quality soils. Once paved over they are lost. I wonder if our great grandchildren will be asking why we were such poor stewards of the land to lose the highly productive soils. Maybe one of Ken Burns’ future relatives or followers will produce a movie on “How America Paved Over Their Valuable Farmland.”

It’s My Money, My Stuff and My Life

We hope you will consider this important and popular four-week program dealing with estate planning. The sessions are presented by local professionals and will be held in the Xenia Community Center, 1204 W. Second Street on Tuesdays from 6-8:30 p.m. starting March 5. The cost is $40 per household and includes a binder with all program materials and a box supper each week. Space is limited and reservations are required.

Information and a flyer can be found at gccoa.org/events. For information or a registration form, you can also contact the Greene County Council on Aging at 937-376-5486.

Consider adding this event to your calendar regardless of your age. Could this be your new year’s resolution?

Jerry Mahan is a retired OSU Extension educator for agriculture and natural resources for Greene County. His can be reached at [email protected].

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