By R. Lema
America is losing its agricultural land to foreign buyers and development at an alarming rate, and
the zoning approval of a massive development on Haggard Farms in West Plano is another loss of Agricultural land for our city, state, and nation. If we don’t protect agricultural land in the future, we will see food shortages, economic losses, and environmental problems.
That is not hyperbole. According to a report from American Farmland Trust, “From 2001 to 2016, 11 million acres of agricultural land were paved over, fragmented, or converted to other uses, (mostly urban and residential development). That’s equal to all the U.S. farmland devoted to fruit, nut, and vegetable production in 2017.”(1) “That means, farmers and ranchers, on average, have 2,000 less acres every day on which to work to feed our communities, to sequester carbon, to make a living and support their families,”(2) says John Piotti (president of American Farmland Trust).
Texas ranks number one on a list of states that are threatened for Agricultural Land Conversion. According to American Farmland Trust’s State of the State report, “In total, 1,373,300 acres of Texas' agricultural lands were converted to urban highly development (UHD) and low-density residential (LDR) land use.”(3) A part of that land that was paved over is right here in Plano. Haggard Farms on Windhaven, Spring Creek, and Parkwood, where they grew crops, giving us valuable oxygen, and other environmental benefits, is the most resent agricultural land rezoned for development. This continues a trend in resent years of West Plano losing a large part of its agricultural land. The most recent built development in the area is Legacy West which was ranch land for cattle. That, “range-land provide[d] valuable forage for livestock, supporting meat and fiber production. It also act[ed] as a unique reservoir of native plant species and provide[d] critical habitat for a wide range of wildlife. With regenerative management systems, [the] livestock grazing on [what was] range-lands lessened the impact of climate change by increasing carbon in the soil, which offered a valuable resource to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.” (4) Those cows are now on a much smaller patch of land next to Legacy West, and if we care about the future of our food supply, our economy and our environment that land and our last bit of open land must be used for agriculture.
First, lets talk about our food supply. We saw first hand at the beginning of Covid that our food and our supply chain can come to a sudden halt. “With the world population projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, and new market demands, we need farmers and ranchers to grow food…” (5) One of those new market demands is a “trend toward “local” food, and direct-to-consumer sales, a sector expanding so quickly it is catching up to decades of strong growth in demand for organics.” (6) The loss of our Plano farms puts more pressure on other farmers to produce.
Agriculture is a huge contributor to our economy. Agriculture and its related industries contribute more than $1 trillion to the U.S. gross domestic product and 11% of U.S. employment.” (7) If you find that statistic hard to believe, let me give you a small look into just how many people are affected by agriculture.
As you know, the flour you buy at the store does not magically appear on the shelf. Before it gets to your local store it goes through many businesses. Flour first starts with a farmer, who plants wheat seeds. This is usually done by workers and machines called a grain drill. If all goes well the wheat grows. When the wheat is ready a machine called a Combine harvests the crop. Then it is sold to a local grain elevator (Co-op). The elevator sells the wheat to, “terminal elevators, which clean, separate and maintain the value of the grain. The grain is then sold to flour millers for domestic consumption, or it is loaded into ships bound for overseas markets.” (8) Next, the millers ground the wheat and it becomes flour. It is bagged and shipped to bakeries, stores, and companies that use it to make their products like bread, cookies, and crackers. You can watch a video of the process here: https://eatwheat.org/stories/wheat-from-field-to-table .
All along this process we have workers at every stage. Workers on the farms, in shipping, at the elevators, at the mills, in the stores, at the bakeries, and at the factories. Not directly a part of this process, but still important to it, are all the people and materials that make and maintain the equipment, buildings, trucks, ships, ports, planes, energy, and gas. All of this comprises the $165.69 billion dollar flour industry.
Flour is only from one crop. Multiply that by every crop, and agriculture touches our lives everyday multiple times a day. Our Texas Agricultural Secretary said it best when he exclaimed, “Without Agriculture we would be hungry, homeless, naked, and sober.” Also our economy would lose one trillion dollars.
Lastly, agriculture helps the environment. If you believe climate change is an existential threat, saving our agricultural land should be a top priority for you. We know that plants give us oxygen and we give them carbon dioxide, so at a very simplistic level the less plants, the less oxygen, and the more carbon dioxide. At a higher scientific level, “developing agricultural land exacerbates climate change in three dramatic ways:
1. Higher Emissions. Agricultural land produces far fewer Green House Gas emissions than land converted to housing or commercial use. A study conducted by AFT with the University of California Davis—and later replicated by AFT in New York state—demonstrated that due to multiple negative impacts, farmland that is converted to other uses emits greenhouse gases at a level 58-70 times greater than if it had remained in farming.
Urban Cities don’t have a lot of plants, but they have a lot of “cement, asphalt, brick, glass, steel and dark roofs”.(12) These things are typically dark in color. “A dark object absorbs all wavelengths of light energy and converts them into heat, so the object gets warm.”(13) The other reason urban cities get hotter is the closeness of the buildings. Buildings trap the hot heat between them and it has no where to go. So, because of all these things, the area of Legacy West is now hotter than it was when the area was grazing land for cows.
The case for farmland protection has never been stronger, “We need farmland to grow our food and other crops and to provide essential environmental services, including carbon sequestration”(14) and we need it right here in Plano.
AFT gives some solutions to protecting agricultural land. The one thing that Plano can do to help is stop rezoning agricultural land for other uses. If it does not, the federal government will do it for us and we will loss local control.
President Biden has already started by signing an Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad on January 27, 2021. One of the items listed in this order is to conserve land. Now, how do you think the federal government will go about doing that? If Biden truly believes that climate change is a threat to mankind, do you think he will not force local governments and residents to conserve land?Right now Plano still has control, but if the city does not make saving agricultural land a top priority it will lose its autonomy to the federal government.
This is R. Lema for Plano’s Political Pit Bull signing off.
1 & 2. Surface Pressure: U.S. Losing Farmland at Alarming Rate By SARA SCHAFER July 29, 2022https://www.agweb.com/news/business/farmland/surface-pressure-us-losing-farmland-alarming-rate#:~:text=July%2029%2C%202022-,From%202001%20to%202016%2C%20the%20U.S.%20lost%20or%20compromised%202%2C000,research%20by%20American%20Farmland%20Trust.
3-7, 9, 14 American Farmland Trust