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Get Outta town! Best Farmland Just Beyond Cities

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Written Friday, April 05, 2002  

Efforts to save Ohio's farmland would be most effective if they focused on areas between 20 miles and 40 miles from major metropolitan areas, say Ohio State University researchers.

Jason Reece, data manager and Geographical Information Systems analyst for an Ohio State University project examining trends in Ohio's townships, said he hopes newly gathered data will help communities plan for future growth.

"Just as a matter of the state's physical geography, most of Ohio's agricultural land is situated within 50 miles of its major metropolitan areas," Reece said. "That's also where a lot of our population is growing -- it's not just at the edge of urban areas."

Reece worked with Elena Irwin, assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics, to study land use in Ohio for a report, "Land Cover in Ohio's Townships: An Analysis of Township Land Cover and Population Change." For it, Reece gathered satellite image data from the early 1990s to determine what land in Ohio is agricultural, forested or urbanized.

The researchers focused on land within a 50-mile radius of seven metropolitan areas: Cleveland/Akron, Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Dayton and Fort Wayne, Ind. -- land that blankets much of the state's agricultural land. Most of the land outside those 50-mile circles is in southeast Ohio, which is hilly, heavily forested and not suitable for most agricultural production, Reece said.

Then, the researchers looked at population trends outside cities and villages -- that is, township population trends -- from 1990 to 2000.

"We found that over 80 percent of the total township population growth that occurred between 1990 and 2000 took place within 40 miles of the major urban centers. That land also happens to be heavily agricultural," he said.

Property owners and communities in Ohio can work together to preserve farmland with the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Ohio's Agricultural Easement Purchase Program, which allows the state and local governments to pay landowners for agricultural easements. The idea is to make it worthwhile for farmers to protect productive farmland from development.

Based on this study, Reece said landowners and communities within 40 miles of metropolitan areas might want to investigate participating in that program, because those areas are seeing much of the state's population growth. The program might be particularly worthwhile for communities between 20 miles and 40 miles from metro areas, because development pressure isn't as great in those outlying areas, and the land there isn't as expensive -- helping the easement dollars go further, Reece said.

Reece and Irwin hope to soon collect more recent land-cover data so they can compare land use change over time. They, along with colleague Jeff Sharp, also are looking forward to expansive data from the Census Bureau this summer, which they can use to examine township residents' aggregate income and employment statistics.

The full land-use report, as well as other data collected in "The Exurban Change Project," is available on the Web at http://aede.osu.edu/programs/exurbs.






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