Sunday, April 22, 2018

Preservationists say Ky. lost half a million acres of farmland to low-density homebuilding in 20 years

John Piotti of the American Farmland Trust and Jessie Wilder of the
Bluegrass Land Conservancy spoke at the press conference Saturday.
The president of the nation's leading farmland-preservation group came to the Midway area Saturday to announce that America has been losing twice as much farmland than the group thought, and Kentucky has been a leader in the main cause of it: low-density residential development.

"This is a place where it's worth putting in all the effort we can to stem the tide of farmland loss, John Piotti of the American Farmland Trust said in a press conference on the farm of Bob and Laura Riddle of Midway, on South Elkhorn Creek and Fishers Mill Road in Scott County.

Piotti said a study that AFT will issue in May will show that the nation is Kentucky lost 791,000 acres of farmland from 1992 to 2012, and 499,000 acres of that, or 61 percent, was from building of single-family homes on lots of two to 10 acres. He said the national figure was 41 percent, so "Kentucky stands out."

In Woodford County, 30 acres is the minimum size for a residential lot in the area in and around Midway that is zoned as prime agricultural land. That "has gone a long way toward protecting some of the farmland in the area," said Jessie Wilder, executive director of the Bluegrass Land Conservancy.

Fayette County has a 40-acre minimum, but Scott County's minimum is only 5 acres, Wilder said, and it is under much more pressure from development than Woodford. She said Scott County once had a program to purchase development rights, as Fayette County does, but has not funded it.

Another way to preserve farmland is to put under a conservation easement, which becomes a covenant running with the land that protects it from development. Wilder said the land conservancy holds conservation easements on the Riddle farm and 125 others covering 27,000 acres in the Bluegrass, including 5,000 to 7,000 acres in Scott and Woodford counties -- mostly in Woodford, along Old Frankfort Pike and Midway Road.

Wilder said loss of farmland was once easy to see, with development of high-density subdivisions, but large residential lots may look like farmland. "It looks different, and lot like farmland is being eaten up, but it is," she said. "It's a threat to our way of life," not just farming but tourism, which in the Bluegrass is tied to farming because the landscape is "the reason people want to come back."

Prohibiting development on farmland keeps land prices down, making it easier for young people to get into farming, Piotti said.

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