Sunday, May 13, 2018

Farmland Loss

Cognitive Miscalculation
Farmland Loss
Urban Islands
By Stephen L. Wilmeth

            The longer we live the more we must recognize that immaturity of society is beyond pervasive.
            It is a good thing that productive people still exist, or the secular behemoth dominating the breathable air would sink us all. There are too many people who now have zero substantive contact with the world beyond the city limit signs. Their perspective of our world is trammeled with agendized logos from the conservation cartels, biweekly lawsuits updates by the swamp rats, and catfights from societal crap games like The View.
            Farmland Loss
            Recent studies have given us a totally new perspective of the magnitude of the loss of our nation’s farmland. In terms of how far the mark has been missed - it is in the 2.5X range. No, that isn’t the lowest magnification of an old Bill Weaver variable scope made in 1962 in El Paso. It is the multiple of the underestimated losses of our most precious resource.
            It is now believed that in the years between 1992 and 2012, some 31,000,000 acres were lost in the United States.
            That is millions as in more millions of acres of farmland than most states even have. For example, that is more acres of farmland than the leading corn producing state, Iowa, even has.
            Since Iowa has been brought up, let’s expand. That state provides a best example of what farmland contributes in terms of a greater multiplier effect. The magnitude of its primary production fuels the fifth largest cattle feeding component of the beef industry, the highest number of laying hens, and the largest pork production among all the states. It is a dynamo of agricultural production and the loss of such a valuable resource is inconceivable, but so is the loss across the many states.
            Urban sprawl is the primary culprit consuming 59% of the lost acreage, but where the development and expansion is concentrated must also be considered. Fully, 62% of America’s development is taking place on farmland.
            That may be expected and understandable in the East where private lands dominate the landscape and towns grew up amidst farmlands, but the fact that farmlands are taking the hit in the West takes on a different hue.
            Cognitive Miscalculation
            A worst case example of farmland loss is the Rio Grande Valley of New Mexico.
Bernalillo County, the most populated county in the state, is the starting place for illustration.  A flyover or a Google Earth search are the best visual explanations. Farms, which once stretched from one side of the river alluvium to the other, are essentially gone. In their wake is residential and commercial sprawl. There are many consequences not the least of which is the alteration of organic substructure to asphalt and concrete.
            The same thing is occurring at an accelerating rate in the southern end of the state in Dona Ana County. The Valley there, referred to as the Mesilla Valley, shares the same meandering water source, the Rio Grande, as the northern comparison only the stream is further depleted from constant and increasing draw from urban demands (The agriculture rights to the water do not and have not changed in years. Those “rights” remain finite, subscribed, and enforced while urban demands have no parallel prior right. Stepwise increased usage comes solely from industry and residential demands).
            The same overflight will yield a similar albeit slower trend in conversion of arable lands to asphalt and concrete. Factors slowing the rate of conversion in the south have included the economy of the last ten years which saw the crash of the real estate market and the higher value crops that can be grown in that part of the state and provide more incentive to remain in farming.
            To the astute, however, another indicator of future losses is in play. The premise of this morning’s discussion, the loss of the nation’s farmland study, illustrates the second largest factor in the demise of our farmland, and that is the parceling of land. Subdividing lands into one to 20 acre parcels by progressive zoning regulations has now constitutes 41% of the farmland loss. This process effectively reduces efficiencies of scale rendering land to equipment ratios uneconomic, hastens the retirement of land when nouveau farmers get tired of backyard pursuits, and isolates land from water sources all-the-while driving the cost of reacquisition for productive uses out of reach.
Dona Ana leadership continues to be a champion of parceling small acres for sale on the misguided assumption they are preserving open space. They have done their part to set the stage for a Bernalillo type inundation.
            Young producers are not welcome into such urban influenced environs.
            Urban Islands
            The most glaring influence of farmland reduction are the stark lines between the river corridor and the immense, undeveloped areas away from the valley.  Those, of course, are the lands belonging to the American version of the Crown, the federal government. They are off limits to any expanded intrusion.
            In Dona Ana County, private ownership of land equates to less than one acre in nine. The consequence is no pressure relief from the asphalt and concrete assault on private lands including the extremely productive and important irrigated farmland base. Urban growth into the mesquite and creosote lands away from the valley is verboten. It is being reserved by and for a secular, urban mob that has a diminishing relationship with any vested natural resource responsibility.
            As such, the model in New Mexico is being cast in salt. Its future is one of expanding urban complexes amidst a backdrop of undeveloped and wild federal and trust land. Perhaps the better description has a somewhat parallel ring associated with an aged, environmental catch phrase. In this case, the suggestion should be Urban Islands.
            Perhaps it is also time to change the state’s motto from Land of Enchantment to Land of Urban Islands.

            Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Realize we are of the unequal states status.”

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