It’s been a few years since the housing bust crippled one man’s plan to turn several acres of farmland into a subdivision in rural Jefferson County, where I live. You can still find a few “No Subdivision!” signs along a rural road, and some of them face three houses that were built in that particular subdivision.
I certainly don’t want to stand in the way of progress, but preventing corn and soybean fields from becoming shopping malls and subdivisions — and at the same time preserving the wide-open spaces that are part of rural life — makes sense to me. They’re not making more farmland. And it’s for the wide-open spaces that I’m living in a rural area.
Recently, a land-use controversy brewing in eastern Oregon caught my eye. The Umatilla County Planning Commission is working to get three zones in the county excepted from state and county limits on minimum farm size.
According to an Associated Press story in the Pendleton, Ore.-based East Oregonian newspaper, the proposed change has been the subject of court fights but is considered essential to the region’s economic future.
Umatilla County’s meeting minutes says it’s submitting a “go-below application” in order to “allow the creation of parcels less than 80 acres in size in the existing Exclusive Farm Use -10, -20 and -40 acre zones.”
Umatilla County’s plan is to help foster the creation of smaller farms. Oregon’s minimum for farmland, according to the article, is 160 acres. Umatilla County is situated in one of the largest wheat and green pea producing areas in the nation.
Apparently, that’s the problem. The article says that “Wheat farmers in Umatilla County have worried in the past that allowing smaller farms would let niche industries such as grape-growing wine operations to flourish in the area, as they have in nearby Walla Walla, Wash. The wheat growers argue that the presence of the wine industry would represent an unwanted cultural shift in East Oregon.”
To me, setting aside smaller farmland for the purposes of farming should be an easy thing to get OK’ed. It permits others to move into the area and make a go of farming, diversifying the region. Equipment dealers could benefit by catering to large and small farms. With the emphasis on buying local growing every day, there’s money to be made in small-scale agriculture.
Umatilla County believes that, too. In the application, it writes: The go-below and the opportunity for creative land management enhances farming, particularly adaptive farming. Smaller units of land are viable as commercial farming operations. Small farms are in high demand to provide local produce and crops to local and regional markets. The go-below enhances flexibility and the likelihood of success for those smaller, adaptive farmers who are not able to purchase larger and capital intensive parcels.”