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Survey shows support for farmland preservation

Alexander Sinn • Jun 14, 2019 at 2:00 PM

WEST OLIVE — A recent survey has confirmed local landowners’ desire to preserve Ottawa County’s farmland.

The Ottawa County Planning & Performance Improvement survey was distributed to 1,636 landowners with at least 5 acres of agriculturally zoned parcels. The county department received 408 responses.

A majority of respondents, 82 percent, said farmland loss is now or could be a problem, while 82 percent also said it’s important to preserve farmland in the county.

Twenty-four percent said they were interested in permanently preserving their farmland, while 47 percent said they were unsure. The majority of landowners – 76 percent – said they are second-generation farmers, and 75 percent of landowners said they plan on passing their farmland to their heirs.

The recent 2018 Census showed Ottawa remains the fastest-growing county in Michigan, and projected growth makes preserving farmland more critical, according to Director of Planning & Performance Improvement Paul Sachs. He said the survey also shows that landowners don’t just want farmland preserved, but want agriculture to remain a vibrant industry.

“Balancing that growth with agriculture, that’s huge,” Sachs said, “and that’s a big opportunity for all of us to take a look at and work together on.”

With the feedback, Ottawa County officials determined existing methods of preservation will remain important, including its Purchase of Development Rights program, which compensates landowners for accepting permanent deed restrictions. Other incentive programs, planning and zoning initiatives will also be prioritized with collaboration with local units of government.

In recent years, the number of individual farms has decreased in the county, but the overall acreage has increased. The county has so far permanently preserved two farms, totalling about 240 acres.

Landowners also voiced the importance of addressing barriers to the economic viability of farming. Strategies may include addressing taxation issues, pursuing new agricultural technologies and enhancing income diversification opportunities, according to county officials. A comprehensive strategy bringing those preservation tools together is currently in the works.

You can view full results of the farmland preservation survey and recommendations at miottawa.org/Departments/Planning/pdf/Farmland_Survey.pdf.

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