oversight

The Use of Prime Agricultural Land for Nonagricultural Purposes in the United States

Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1977-07-19.

Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)

                           D'C". NT RESUME
02754 - [A209320'4   (Restricted)
[(The ruse of Prime Agricultural Lar 'or Nonagricultural Purposes
in the Un'c.ed States]. Jujy 19, 1977. 4 pp. + enclosure (3 pp.).-
Report to R. M. Davis, Administrator, Soil Conservation Service;
by Brian P. Crowley, Assistant Director, Community and EcoLomic
Development Div.
Issue Area- Land Use Planning and Control (2300).
Contact: Community and Economic Development Div.
Budget Function: Agriculture (350).
Organization Concerned: Department of Agriculture.
         A study cc nductul by the Soil Ceaer vation 3crvic in
1975 identified certain land in Minnesota as noncropland which
had high or medium potential for conversion to Cropland within
the next 10 to 15 years.   Findings/Conclusions:   This land was
included as part of an 111-million-acre cropland reserve which
the Service estimated existed nationvwie. About 78 sillion acres
of the reserve were classified as having high potential for
conversion to cropland, considering commodity prices,
development costs, and production costs. The remaining 33
million acres were classified as having medius potential for
conversion to cropland. In estimating the acreage of potential
cropland, Service field represeutatives gathered :nd analyzed
information from sample areas in 506 counties throughout the
country. Various points within these sample areas were assessed
as to their potential for conversion to cropland. visits to the
44 sample points in 5 counties in Hiniesota, which L-d been
classified as having high or medium potential for conversion,
showed taiit two of the points had been converted to cropland,
but there was little likelihood that the other 42 points
rep:asented land that could or would be converted to cropland if
needea in the foreseeable future.   Recommendations: In future
studies of this type, landowners of the sample points should be
consulted about their intentions for using noncropland for
future crop production, and their views on the problems that
would be encountered in converting such land to cropland should
be obtained. (SC)
                                        UNITED STATES GENERAL ACCOIINTING OFFICE
                                                 WASHINGTON, D.C.    20548

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pH9mVunp"IV ^el 029
   ,o4MUevIL ANo    tDtiv                                                JUL 1_9 19'
                                                                                 rMI7

       )                                          D~o not mea   aYvailable to publie reading
                              Mr. R. M. Davis
                              Adbinistrator, Soil Conservation Service
                              Dbpalrtment of Agriculture

                              Dear Mr. Davis:

           ::::::::X:::V: :     :_: ::W;  akin:; a survTey: to :deerlnetwhether the use of
                              prime agricultural land for nonagricultural purposes is, or
                              it likely to become, a problem in the United States. Part
                              of our effort to date has been to inquire into what land-
                              owners are doing or planning to do, and what problems
                              might be involved, with certain land in Minnesota which the
                              Soil Conservation Service had identified In a 1975 study
                              as noncropland which had high or medium potential for
                              conversion to cropland within the next 10 to 15 years.

                                   This land was included as part of an Ill-million-acre
                              cropland reserve which the Service estimated existed
                              nationwide based on its 1975 study. About 78 million of
                              the lll-million-acre reserve was classified as having high
                              potential for converasion to cropland considering-commodity
                              prices, development costs, and production costs. The
                              remaining 33 million acres of the reserve were classified
                              as having medium potential for conversion Lt cropland
                              using the same criteria.

                                    The Service's stud) vas undertaken to obtain data
                               on the potential for developing new cropland, especially
                               in view of the large amounts of cropland that had been
                               converted in recent years for housing, industrial, and other
                              purposes. Although some agricultural authorities have
                              stated that the potential cropland should take care of the
                              Nation's needs for increased food production for the fore-
                              seeable future, they believe the Nation will be facing a
                              squeeze in crop productive capability in a few years and
                              action may be needed to preserve potential cropland. It
                              is therefore important that estimates of the availability
                              of potential cropland be fairly reliable.
           In entimating 'the acreage of otential cropland, Service
      field representatives gathered and analyzed information from
      sawple areas in 506 counties throughout the United States.
      Vatious points withi.n these sample areas were assessed as to
      their potential for conversion to cropland. They considered
      such factorc as the condition of the land, how the land was
      being used, and the type of development that would be
      necessary and the environmental and economic problems that
      would be faced in using the land for growing crops. They
      then classified the saple points according to whether they
      had high, medium, low, or no potential for conversion to
      cropland. The results of the sample were projected to
      estimate the 111-million-acre reserve.

           To get some idea ot the reliability of the estimate,
      we selected five counties in Minnesota and visit:d all 44
      sample points in those counties that had been classified
      as having high or medium potential for conversion to crop-
      land. The 44 points included 31 of the 58 sample poin'.:s
      in the State of Minnesota that had been classified as
      high-potential cropland and all 13 of the sample points
      in the State that had been classified as medium-potential
      cropland, as shown below.

                       Total points
                        with high
                        or medium          Number of points classified as
County                  potential          Hihpotential Medium potential

Hennepin                    5                   5                   0

St. Louis                   9                   0                   9

Redwood                     2                   2                   0

Stearns                     8                   7                   1

Kandiyohi                  20                  17                   3

    Total-5 coun!ies       44                  31                  13

    Total--Minnesota       71                  58                  13




                                      2
We viewed the land represented by these points and discussed
the likelihood of conversion with the landowners.

     Two of the sample points we visited in Stearns County
had been converted to cropland. On. the basis of our site
visits and discussions with landowners and -ervice field
representatives, it seems unlikely that the ot- .r 42 points
in our survey represent land that could or would be converted
to cropland in the foreseeable future if needed. We believe
these points, which the Service's 1975 study projected to
represent about 1.8 million acres, should have been
classified as having low potential, and in one case no
potential, for conversion to cropland. In many cases the
land was being used for other agricultural purposes, such
as raising cattle and turkeys, and in other cases the land-
owoers believed it would be uneconomical to make the land
suitable for growing crops.

      For example, two areas in 'indiyohi County which were
rep)resented by 18 sample points were being used ar pasture
fo'r turkeys. The owner said that he had a large    pital
inAvstment in turkey facilities and would not convert the
pasture to cropland as long as he raised turkeys. An area
in Bennepin County which was represented by several points
was being used as a cattle lane and pasture. The owner
said he would not conrert the. land in the cattle lane to
cropland as long as he owned dairy cattle and would not
convert the pasture area unless he could obtain double the
rent he was receiving for pasture rental. Because these
areas are already in agricultural production, we 'believe
they should not be considered as having high or medium
potential for tropland. Several of the other Ureas had
drainage or oLher problems that landowners said would be
too costly or difficult to correct.

      The enclosure lists our specific reasons for believing
the land represented by 42 of the 44 sample points we
visited has little or no potential for conversion to crop-
land.

      In two of the five counties, district conservationists
said that they had used aerial photographs to classify the
sample points and had not visited the sites. District
conservationists in the other three counties said that they
had visited the sites but had not always talked to the land-
owns!rs to determine whether they had any plans or views for
using the land as future cropland.




                                3
     We recommend that, in future studies of this type,
landmvners of the sample points be consulted about their
intentions or plans for using noncropland for future crop
production and to obtain their views on the problems that
would be encountered in converting such land to cropland.
Such knowledge would provide a better basis for classifying
their land as having high, medium, low, or ro potential
for conversion to cropland.

     We ciscussed ou: observations and recommendation with
represe.tatives of the Service's3 Land Inventory and
Moultoring Division. 'e asked them to consider landowners'
intentions in their current erosion inventory study which is
to include an updated assessment of the Nation's potential
cropland. They have agreed to discuss our observations with
State and district conservationists during training sessions
preparatory to underte ing the new study. They also said
they would emphasize . their field offices the necessity of
physically visiting all the sample points to insure that
potential cropland is appropriately classified.

     We appreciate the cooperation of your staff in
considering this matter.

                              Sincerely,



                              Brian P. Crowley -_
                              Assistant Director
Enclosure




                               4
            ENCLOSURE I
                                                                                                         ENCLOSURE I


                                                    POTENTIjAL CROPLAND SAMPLE
                                             POINTS WITH QUESTIONABLE CLASSIFICATION


                                               Suggestea
            Sample    Point      Service          GAO
 County     nunmber num-.r(s) classification classification
                                                                                        Reasons for differences
dennepin     062          9       High              Liw        The area was being used for cattle.   The owner said the area
                                                               could be c'nverted if he got rid of his cattle, bet he had
                                                               intention of doing so.                                     no

             062      13          High              Low        The owner said that, for this area to be cropped, it would
                                                               have to be tiled and a drainage outlet would have to be made
                                                               across a neighbor's property. The owner thought the cost of
                                                               converting would be too great for such a small plot.
             133          5       High              Low        The owner wanted to keep the land in pasture and said he would
                                                               not convert as long as he owned the farm.
             133      17          High              Low        The owner was renting out this land as pasture for $30 an
                                                               acre. he said he would consider clearing the land if he
                                                               could double his rental. He was skeptical about the cost
                                                               of clearing the land.
             133      21          High              Low        The sample point lies in a cattle lane. The owner said he
                                                               would not convert the land unless he got rid of his dairy,
                                                               herd which he has no intention of doing.

                                                              The district conservationist believed the classifications in
                                                              Hennepin County would be different if owners' intentions
                                                              were considered.
St. Louis    91     1,5,9,       Medium            Low        The sample area was State-owned tax-forfeited lend. The area
                    13,17,    (all points)                    had a high water table and the soil was primarily peat. The
                    21,,25,                                   quarter section adjacent to the sample area had been mired
                     29,33                                                                                               for
                                                              peat. The district conservationist felt this land should have
                                                              been classified as having low potential.
                 INCOSURE I                                                                                 ENLOSURE I
                                                    Suggested
                 Sample.   Point      Service          GAO
     County      number  number(s) classification classification                            Reasons for differences

"Redwood          241     21,25         High           Low         Both points fell in a low drainage area containing boulders
                                   (both points)                   and scattered trees. The owner, who does tiling part time,
                                                                   said it would be too difficult to tile and the soil is poor.

    Stearns       041         5         digh           Low         The point was located on a parcel of land that was vnry steep
                                                                   and rolling. The district conservationist indicated the land
i                                                                  would have to be leveled using neavy equipment.

                  041      17           High           Low         The point fell on the edge of a mar-,; and the cwner said the
                                                                   land was too low and wet to economically convert.. The area
                                                                   had been tiled once but it was still too wet to farm.

                  122      13           High           Low         The owner said he planned to keep this area in pasture for
                                                                   his dairy herd. The point fell at the base of a slope.

                   122        25        High           Low         This point fell in a lightly wooded area which the owner
                                                                   planned to clear and use for pasture.

                   192        21       Medivm          Low         According to the owner, the area where this pc nt fell is
                                                                   low and wet in the spring, and he planned to keep the land
                                                                   as pasture for his dairy cattle. The district conservationist
                                                                   said the best use of the land was as a grazing area for
                                                                   dairy cattle.

                   361         9        High           Low         The sample point fell in a rolling wooded pasture area. The
                                                                   owner wanted to keep the area in pabture and said he would
                                                                   not convert the land as long as he owned the farm.

    ·Kandiyohi     031    1,5,9,        High           Low         Sample numbers 031 and 041 fell on turkey farmz owned by
                          13,17,    (all points)                   one person,   The area on these farms is primarily pasture
                          21,33                                    used for turkeys.   The owner said he would not convert che
                                                                   pasture to cropland as long as he raised turkeys.

                   031    25,29        Medium          Low
                                   (both points)


                                                                   2
         ENCLOSURE I                                                                                 ENCLOSURE I

                                             Suggested
         Sample     'Point     Service          GAO
County   number   number(s) classification classification                            Reasons for differences

           041     1,5,13,       High           Low         See preceding comment.
                   17,21,    (all points)
                   25,29,
                   33

           041-         9      Medium           Low

           092         29       High            Low         The sampLe.'point fell in a pasture area which had once been
                                                            tiled, but the tile was too small to be effective. The owner
                                                            had no plans to retile and drainage would require cooperation
                                                            from neighbors.

           152         13       High            No          The point fell in a platted area between a landowner's back-
                                              potential     yard and a golf course. The sample area is close to, if not
                                                            within, the city of Willmar. The owner said she wanted to
                                                            keep the land as open space.




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