Planners would be required to measure economic benefits
By DAVE WILKINS
Proposed legislation in Idaho would require local land use planners to give more consideration to agriculture and its economic impact.
House Bill 148 would require local planners to include in their comprehensive plans an analysis of the role that agriculture plays in the community.
Existing Idaho land use law already encourages the protection of prime farmland, forestry lands and mining lands. But the proposed amendment goes further. It stipulates that local land use planners also consider the economic benefits that those natural resource industries provide to the local area.
The bill would require "an analysis of the agriculture base of the community, including agricultural lands, farming activities, farming-related businesses and the role of agriculture and agricultural uses in the community."
Supporters of the bill include the Coalition for Agriculture's Future. The group, launched a few years ago in Canyon County, is concerned about the loss of good farmland to development.
Canyon County lost 22 percent of its farmland between 1997 and 2009, coalition leader George Crookham said. Ada County lost 10 percent of its farmland during the same period.
"We're not opposed to responsible growth. We're for good planning," Crookham said during a recent presentation at the Idaho Ag Summit in Boise.
Residential subdivisions constructed in the middle of farm country have become a major problem, Crookham said.
He showed aerial photographs of such "spot developments" in the Treasure Valley.
A 40-acre residential development in the middle of farmland may not seem like much, "but it affects all 320 acres surrounding it," Crookham said.
"It makes it very difficult for people like myself to continue to farm and produce products in the state," he said.
Crookham is owner and CEO of Crookham Co., in Caldwell. The family-owned business specializes in the breeding, production and marketing of sweet corn, popcorn and onion seed.
Poor land use planning can have permanent consequences, he said.
"When they build that residential community, it's not going back into farmland," Crookham said.
Supporters of the bill say that agriculture's economic contribution to local communities should be considered in land use plans.
Idaho's ag receipts have continued to increase even as the amount of farmland in Idaho has declined, Crookham said.
The local government committee held a hearing on the bill Feb. 22 and sent it to the full House for a vote. There was no opposition expressed during the hearing, committee secretary Mary Tipps said.