I have a friend in south Florida who is a lawyer who is starting the conversation about farmland for sale. Ok, in south Florida is might be about 40 years too late, but he has a great argument to make, even here, now. Developers have paid handsomely for agricultural land near urban areas, especially in areas with nice weather (see Florida). The problem is that many of those lands have been productive and because they are close to urban areas, convenient for the movement or produce to feed those communities or export the food to other areas. It would seem obvious that buying food locally would be preferred to buying food from far away, unless you are an Agribusiness or developer that is. And most family farms have been handed down to generations that, well, just don’t want to work farms, given the amount of money that the land can be sold for. So it is an easy economic argument to make – sell your farm to developers and live happily ever after. Except that means farmland that is no longer producing. And as my friend notes, there is a finite amount of farmland out there and we are decreasing that acreage in the US every year.
Now true, some will argue than development is less water intensive than farms, but much of that argument is due to the traditional practices used for farm watering, as opposed to newer, less wasteful means. So they argue, development is preferable to farming, but that argument may be limited to areas that are a) water poor b) bring water in from elsewhere, c) extensively use groundwater which may not recharge, or d) should probably have neither farming or development. But is Florida, we see fewer oranges, fewer row crops and less ranching than 20 or 40 years ago. All that land is condos and houses, and our food gets trucked or shipped in from many places, a lot of them not Florida and few local. He suggests that might not be a good thing for the long term.
Of course Florida is going to be faced with another of these land dilemmas. When Crist was governor, he negotiated a deal to buy land from US Sugar to help restore water from Lake Okeechobee to the Everglades. Now the powers say they can’t afford to maintain the land, so US Sugar can keep it. Of course US Sugar has plans for 100,000 houses in the Everglades Agricultural Area, or more, once farming stops. I see my friend cringing. That land, while not beneficial as farmland, surely would be less beneficial and farm more vulnerable as development. Maybe we should rethink that land purchase? Worth thinking about anyway.