Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Rural Development Poses Future Threat to American FarmersXXX

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Rural Development Poses Future Threat to American FarmersXXX

Article excerpt

BENTONVILLE, Ark. (AP) _ The two counties in Arkansas' northwestern corner are among more than 150 in the nation with some of the nation's highest agricultural sales _ and the highest population growth rates.

The combination spells trouble for farmers, say experts who cite steep prices now being offered for farmland.

"There are housing developments across the road on the east and west sides," said Ralph Cloe of Bentonville, a farmer for 61 years. "It's getting pretty bad. They are building houses in every direction. A year ago, a neighbor sold his peach orchard to a developer, and it's already covered with houses, big houses. Pretty soon, there's not going to be any farmland at all around here."

Farmers are literally losing ground to urban dwellers in many areas of the country, and many see the trend as a threat to the future of agriculture in the nation.

According to Edward Thompson Jr., public policy director of American Farmland Trust in Washington D.C., recent U.S. Agriculture Department studies estimate that 2 million acres of American farmland are converted each year to urban use.

That loss of farmland, Thompson said, reduces the country's agricultural base, makes the nation more reliant on foreign markets, and pushes farmers onto marginally productive farmland, which leads to greater use of fertilizers and pesticides. The only option for many farmers, he said, is to quit farming.

The American Farmland Trust ranked Benton and Washington counties among the 150 counties where population growth is occurring while farmers are bringing in significant revenue.

Cloe, now retired, said he refused to sell his land for $5,000 an acre because he wants his daughter and son-in-law to continue to raise beef cattle and grow hay on it. But he's an exception.

Merle Gross, a Washington County agricultural extension agent, said with farm prices at their current levels, few farmers can resist a $2,000-per-acre offer for their land. …

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