Basic necessities for farming: soil, water and equipment
by Kathryn Gardow, Conservation Director
This article was originally published in March 2011
Much has been said over the years in this column about PCC Farmland Trust’s pursuits to save local, organic farmland forever. The basics of our work do not change but how we set priorities and pursue opportunities continue to evolve.
There are some elements important in almost all farmland acquisitions, whether we acquire a donated or purchased conservation easement.
We recently evaluated a gorgeous piece of property with prime agricultural soils in the Puget Sound region owned by an elderly couple. We want properties with prime agricultural soils because they grow the best food!
The couple lived in the home on the property in the 1970s, when they were raising their children. They now live in Seattle but still visit the property occasionally. The land has been on the market for two years and it’s not moving, in part because of the down real estate economy.
The property has not been farmed for over 40 years and although it has many good attributes — including a willing seller and great soil — it lacks some basic necessities for farming: water rights and farming infrastructure.
Water rights, or the right to legally use water for a specific beneficial use, are critical to the long-term farming viability of land. There are a few water uses that do not require a permit from the state, but since 1945 the majority of the state’s water has been regulated.
Much of the state’s water already has been allocated for a multitude of uses, including drinking water for cities, industrial uses, and farming. In this rainy time of year, it feels like there’s too much water but we have to remember that our summers are dry, and that’s when farmland needs to be irrigated.
Also, farming infrastructure, such as barns, sheds, and irrigation piping, is important. Even with the smallest farms, first-year startup costs can be $350,000 or more. Without a location to store equipment and tools, costs escalate and make it less affordable for a new farmer.
We had to pass on this property despite its positive qualities. Our task is to find the best properties, with the greatest number of farming attributes, on which we can purchase the development rights. We want to use your donated dollars to keep the best land in farming.