Ohio has one of the highest proportions of prime agricultural soils in the nation. And now, the focus on protecting that land could shift to new areas, thanks to a new report from Ohio State University's Center for Farmland Policy Innovation.

Jill Clark, director of the center, and Heide S. Martin, the center's planning and policy coordinator, will discuss the report, "Planning on Farming Ohio? A Model for Understanding the Opportunities for Innovation," at the 8th Annual Ohio Farmland Preservation Summit at the Ohio Department of Agriculture in Reynoldsburg on Thursday, Nov. 1. The full report is online at http://cffpi.osu.edu .

"We came up with this model to help identify areas in the state where there's the most need for farmland protection programming," Clark said. "While all counties have some level of need, the question is, which counties have the greatest need given the existing resources, the existing activity, and the existing development pressure in their areas?"

To do this, Clark and Martin examined each of Ohio's 88 counties and gave numeric values to several indicators, weighting them according to their importance in affecting farmland preservation.

To determine the need for farmland preservation in each county, the researchers determined:
* The level of development pressure (above or below average) that could consume the county's farmland.
* The percentage of prime soils existing within the county, as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources
Conservation Service.
* The market value per acre of farmland in the county as compared to farmland in other areas of the state.

To determine the level of activity currently in place to protect a county's farmland, the researchers determined:
* The number of applications to the Ohio Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Easement Purchase Program within the county as compared to other areas of the state. The program uses Clean Ohio funds to keep prime farmland in agricultural production in perpetuity.
* Whether the county had any land trust activity working to protect farmland, as determined by listings in the Coalition for Ohio Land Trust's
2005 Directory.
* Presence of a county-level agricultural preservation task force.

By plugging in numeric values for each side of the equation (need for preservation vs. current activity working toward preservation), the researchers identified 15 counties where the need to preserve farmland outweighed local efforts to do so.

The two counties with the highest priorities for action are western Ohio counties of Wyandot and Shelby, each of which had a moderate level of need identified, but no local activity to protect farmland. "Shelby and Wyandot represent places that have slipped through the cracks," Clark said. "The development pressure isn't as great in these counties, but the soils and the strong ag economy demand some attention. They have the opportunity to look at farmland protection proactively instead of reacting to growth, as we've seen in so many areas of the state."

Counties identified as having a moderate priority for action are Cuyahoga, Delaware, Fayette, Franklin and Summit; counties with a lower priority for action were Columbiana, Hamilton, Morrow, Noble, Pike, Putnam, Union and Warren counties. Four of those counties (Cuyahoga, Franklin, Summit and Hamilton) are already highly urbanized, Clark said.

"We originally thought about eliminating heavily urbanized counties with relatively little land devoted to agriculture from the model, but we reconsidered that," Clark said. "These counties represent the majority of Ohio's fruit, vegetable and nursery production -- high dollar-value crops that are in demand by Ohio consumers. I think we're missing out on an opportunity to save this farmland, especially with all the interest in locally grown foods."

The findings reveal opportunities to create innovative strategies to protect agricultural resources, Clark said. "We may need to create new tools or revise techniques currently in place to protect productive agricultural land," she said. For example, by focusing new strategies on urbanized areas, the state has an opportunity to protect local food systems and fill demand for local produce.

For more information on the study or on the Ohio Farmland Preservation
Summit, contact Clark at (614) 247-6479, (614) 571-1583 (cell), or clark.1099@osu.edu.