On August 14, 2018, the Pierce County Council voted to double amount of working farmland county policy will conserve long-term. The recent Pierce County Fresh Look report concluded that “[t]here’s near-consensus support for protecting Pierce County’s best farmland and sustaining the economic viability of local agriculture.”
There are real threats to conserving Pierce County’s agricultural land. As the Fresh Look study found, “[f]armers further from urban centers are also feeling pressure of development on their operations. Even in the south end of the county, where livestock production (mainly beef cattle) is the primary agricultural activity, residential growth is challenging to farmers and ranchers.” The Agriculture Infrastructure Study Pierce County 2015 found that land availability was a significant barrier to farmers ability to expand their operations. The Pierce County Report Preserving Farmland and Farmers: Pierce County Agriculture Strategic Plan concluded that one of the barriers to economically viable agriculture in Pierce County was the need to maintain “[a] critical (minimum) threshold amount of land and number of farmers …; otherwise the industry loses options to sustain itself and grow.”
Since Pierce County first adopted its current agricultural land designation criteria in 2004, Pierce County has lost 7,987 acres of protected agricultural land. If no improvements are made, Pierce County will lose another 13,313 acres of working farmland. The new policies approved by the Pierce County Council will stanch these loses, designating over 22,000 acres of protected farmland, removing the designation criterion that allowed the continued farmland losses, and including policies to better protect working farms.
While protected farmland has declined, demand for farmland has increased in Pierce County. Between 2007 and 2012, the land in farms in Pierce County grew by four percent or 1,800 acres. In that five-year period, the market value of food and other agricultural products sold by farmers and ranchers increased by nine percent. One of the local land trusts reports that over the past several years, there has been a consistent need for more farmland than has been available in Pierce County. In a recent three-year period, the land trust has heard from over 45 farmers who are looking for land and are interested in starting or expanding their farm businesses in Pierce County.
Futurewise brought about these improvements by appealing the inconsistencies in the Pierce County Comprehensive Plan to a state agency. With the adoption of the new policies, Futurewise will be able to dismiss this successful appeal.