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110,000-plus acres of farmland will vanish, researchers say

Between 110,000 and 240,000 acres of farmland in southwestern Idaho will disappear by 2100, according to a report by a team of Boise State University researchers. How much actually vanishes depends in part on decisions made about housing density, according to the report.
Sean Ellis

Capital Press

Published on November 1, 2017 10:16AM

A sign advertises farmland for sale near Meridian in southwestern Idaho April 17. A Boise State University professor has developed a map that projects more than 110,000 acres of farmland in the region will disappear by the end of the century.

Sean Ellis/Capital Press File

A sign advertises farmland for sale near Meridian in southwestern Idaho April 17. A Boise State University professor has developed a map that projects more than 110,000 acres of farmland in the region will disappear by the end of the century.

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BOISE — An urban growth model created by a team of Boise State University researchers shows that a staggering amount of agricultural land in the Treasure Valley will disappear in the coming decades.

The model shows that between 110,000 and 240,000 acres of ag land in Ada and Canyon counties, Idaho’s two most populous counties, will be lost to urban encroachment by 2100.

There is currently 365,600 acres of ag land in those counties.

Those projections came as a jolt to Nampa farmer Janie Burns, who is helping lead an effort to raise the issue of cropland loss in southwestern Idaho.

“Wow, that is shocking,” she said. “That’s a lot of acreage. The sheer amount of it is really stunning.”

The data to project farmland losses by the decade are included in the data, although the team didn’t calculate that in the report, said Jodi Brandt, who is part of the BSU team that developed it.

As a simple average, the projected loss of farm land works out to 13,000 to 30,000 acres a decade.

The report used nine different scenarios of population growth and density to project urban growth in the Treasure Valley through 2100.

It projected that if the valley’s population, which is around 640,000 now, grows to 1.5 million by 2100 and population density remains the same as it is today, the amount of urban land will increase by 220,000 acres, while agricultural land will decrease by 190,000 acres.

In the worst-case scenario — the valley’s population reaches 1.75 million and population density is unchanged — 240,000 acres of agricultural land will disappear.

Under the best-case scenario — the population reaches 1.25 million and population density increases as a result of so-called “smart” growth policies — 110,000 acres of ag land in the valley would be lost by 2100.

Burns said the report “certainly sends an urgent call to our leaders to take a hard look at what the future looks like” for the valley’s farming industry.

The research team used data from 2001 to 2011 to help develop their projections. During that time, urban land area in the valley increased by 10 percent and agricultural land decreased by 5 percent, according to the report.

“In summary,” the report states, “the future of farm land … in the Treasure Valley will be greatly influenced by how much population grows, as well as the decisions made about housing density.”

The report should be an eye-opener for all Treasure Valley residents and shows the public that there are other options to manage the valley’s resources other than business as usual, said George Crookham, chairman of the Coalition for Agriculture’s Future, which includes 25 agribusinesses and ag-related associations in the region.

“We really appreciate the opportunity they’ve given the public to see that there are options,” he said. “The high-density option certainly would protect our resources and quality of life better.”

Online

The report can be viewed at http://bit.ly/2iPbs4M



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