The natural capital in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, provides a robust flow of essential economic goods and services benefits, including food, water, clean air, natural beauty, climatic stability, storm and flood protection, and recreation. Agricultural lands make up over 65% of the ecosystems in Lancaster County, which is the first county in the nation to reach 100,000 acres of preserved farmland. This analysis identified the natural capital from farmland preservation at $676 million in annual economic benefits. If treated like an asset, Lancaster County ecosystems value at $17.5 billion.
Researchers in Maryland asked: if preserved open space increases property values on adjacent residential parcels, how many additional acres of open space could be preserved using the subsequent rise in property tax revenues? In Calvert County, the increase in tax revenue generated from a 1% increase in preserved agricultural land would be sufficient to purchase an additional 88 acres in the first year and 2,640 acres in 30 years. In Howard County, it would generate sufficient additional tax revenues to purchase 110 acres in one year and 3,300 acres in 30 years. (In Carroll County property values were not found to be affected by proximity to open space.)
The American Farmland Trust compared the costs and benefits of purchasing easements on two farms, one in PA and one in CT. In CT, the benefits of a $44,000 easement include $327,496 of local goods and services are purchased annually and a total local economic impact of the farm operation of $863,315. The benefits of the $393,330 PA easement include $133,964 annualy spent at local businesses for goods and services for the farm, $804/year in recreation benefits and $2,107 /year in direct sales of farm products.
This paper explores how well farmland preservation programs provide the benefits their proponents state they do: food security and local food supply, a viable local agricultural economy, environmental and rural amenities, sound fiscal policy and orderly development.
The creation of riparian buffers in agricultural landscapes can improve water quality, but also take land out of productive agricultural use. However, planting and harvesting of non-timber products (fruits, nuts and ornamentals) can create both environmental and economic benefits, including a gross income of $60,934/ha/year.
Although working and open space lands may generate less revenue than residential, commercial or industrial property, they require less public infrastructure and fewer community services. Cost of Community Services studies from 25 states show that, on average, the median cost per dollar of revenue raised to provide public services for commercial and industrial lands was $0.30, for working and open space lands was $0.37, and for residential lands was $1.16.
The economic benefits of working forest preservation include revenues from timber, recreation services, the avoidance of having to artificially replace the ecosystem services naturally provided by the forest, and the avoidance of development costs. Utilizing conservation easements rather than fee simple purchases greatly reduces debt service payments and retains at least a modest stream of property tax revenues for the county.
This study presents the key findings of an assessment of budget and fiscal trends for Queen Anne’s County, Maryland. It shows that the following perceptions about development and its relationship to the county’s fiscal position are not true: A lack of residential development has hurt the county’s fiscal health; agriculture and open space are unproductive land uses; increased residential development will lead to healthier fiscal conditions; and more commercial zoning can solve the county’s budget problems.
In February 1939, as part of the Wisconsin Farm and Home Week observance at the University of Wisconsin, Aldo Leopold presented an address entitled “The Farmer as a Conservationist”.
Leopold began his remarks with these words:
“When the land does well for its owner, and the owner does well by his land—when both end up better by reason of their partnership—then we have conservation. When one or the other grows poorer, either in substance, or in character, or in responsiveness to sun, wind, and rain, then we have something else, and it is something we do not like."
Preserving farmland and promoting farmland best management practices have direct, positive effects on local economies through product sales, job creation, the use of support services and businesses, and the supply of lucrative secondary markets such as food processing. Conversion of farmland to residential lots puts a burden on local government budgets for the provision of services. Distinctive agricultural landscapes bring tourism dollars into communities and farmland preservation paired with sustainable management practices protects the provision of ecosystem services, without which governments would have to pay to artificially replace.