ROBINSON TWP. — Many local farmers and others interested in the industry gathered at Spring Meadow Nursery on Friday to learn some statistics and plans for farming.

Through the Redefining Farmland Preservation event at the Robinson Township nursery business, attendees heard from speakers about the economy and its effects on agriculture, agriculture census data, projections and advice for the future, and more. 

"Ottawa County has incredibly robust business growth. It is the fastest-growing county in Michigan in population," said Paul Sachs, director of the county's Planning and Performance Improvement department. "Ottawa County is working with its partners to support agriculture."

Sachs said the county excels in agriculture; however, the area has been subject to loss of farmland — by 17 percent from 2012 to 2017; and of farm acreage, by 8 percent in the same time frame.

"Farmland preservation efforts will be more successful if we do our best to protect farmland as well as farming," he said. 

Easements, planning, zoning and more were listed as possible suggestions to begin working toward preservation. Sachs said these suggestions could help combat some of the many challenges farmland and farmers face, including succession.

Speakers noted during Friday's presentation that occasionally farmers leave the industry and different options, such as an easement, could help in having the land transfered to someone wanting to get into or expand in farming.

Cris Coffin, American Farmland Trust senior policy analyst and director of the National Agricultural Land Network, said a mantra for the trust is: "It's not farmland without farmers."

"We are a member service," she said. "We focus on these three pillars — protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices and keeping farmers on their land."

Coffin said because farmland is under threat, the trust is working on a multiphase project which will look at the state of American farmland, state-by-state spacial and policy analysis, and an impact forecast.

Attendees also heard from Paul Isely, associate dean of Grand Valley State University's Seidman College of Business, and Marlo Johnson, U.S. Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service regional director, before wrapping up the day with an optional tour of Spring Meadow Nursery.

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