Eminent Domain, Farmland and National Security
The other week, Foxnews.com ran an article titled “Its Your Land: Fighting for the Family Farm
” that recounts the story of the Rainville Farm near the Vermont-Canada border. The dairy farm has been in the care of the Rainville family since 1946, but a portion of their land may soon be taken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the expansion of an aging border-crossing station to meet new national security standards. DHS has made an offer and if the Rainville’s refuse to accept it, the land may be taken using eminent domain. The loss of that land would most certainly put the family-run farm out of business.
Read the full article here
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident; federal government projects have a significant impact on the conversion of farmland to non-agricultural uses, which not only affect individual farm businesses but also threaten a different, but equally critical element, our national security. What happens when our nation cannot feed itself? And our rural economies continue their downward slide? Obviously losing this one farm will not bring our country to the brink of starvation, but data shows we are losing hundreds of thousands of acres of farmland every year
, at a clip of about an acre every minute. So the question is no longer an “either-or” - farmland or national security - farmland loss IS a national security issue.
Last year, we sent newly-elected President Obama our “9 for 09” list of better policy for farms, food, and the environment. One recommendation addressed the federal government’s tendency to treat farmland as an afterthought, rather than a strategic resource critical for the sustainability of our country. It read:
Recommendation 6: Reduce, even mitigate, the federal government’s role in farmland conversion.
Currently the federal government has a significant impact on the conversion of farmland into non-agricultural uses. As highways or other federal projects are built through farmland, our nation loses irreplaceable agricultural resources across the length and breadth of the country. We seek to ensure that federal projects do not convert farmland unnecessarily, and when conversion is necessary, they mitigate against the loss of this critical national resource. At present, there is no statutory or administrative authority to compel federal agencies and departments to consider alternative actions or remedies to lessen the impact of projects on the conversion of farmland…..
Isn’t it time we start treating the land that sustains us with more respect? After all, we’re pressing farm and ranch land into service to also address climate change, air and water quality and energy concerns. Perhaps we shouldn’t pave it over at the same time.
About the Author: Jon Scholl is President of American Farmland Trust. Prior to AFT, he served as Counselor to the Administrator for Agriculture Policy at the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Jon and his family operate a corn and soybean farm in McLean County, Illinois.