Local Farms provide over $100 million dollars into the Pierce County economy and they are an important part of our history and culture. If you have been to one of Pierce County's 17 farmers markets you know that local food has never been more sought after in our community. Young farmers are clamoring for farmland that is increasing hard to find.
The Pierce County Council is considering the Planning Commission's recommendation to reduce the amount of acreage in Agriculture (ARL Zoning) to below 10,000 acres a roughly 60% decrease in Agriculture lands in Pierce County from the current ARL map. So far the County Council has not made an amendment to change this.
The County is required to identify and preserve resource lands as a requirement of the Growth Management Act. Agricultural lands are one of three types of resource lands the County has an obligation to identify and preserve. Because of a mapping error in the past it is important to fix the map and change the criteria otherwise we will wind up with less than 10,000 acres of agriculture lands in Pierce County.
How Many Acres of Farmland Do We Have?
According to the USDA Pierce County has over 65,000 acres of prime soils and 49,000 acres of land currently farmed. Executive McCarthy proposed that we designate all 65,000 acres ARL but that proposal was met with criticism by school districts who have bought rural lands in hopes of building schools on it.
What are Other Counties Doing to Map Ag Lands?
Snohomish County has set aside over 63,000 acres for agriculture and King County has set aside over 42,000 acres. Both of these counties consider Agricultural Current Use in deciding which properties are zoned agriculture. If you are getting a tax break for farming they believe you should be zoned agriculture.
What Can the County Council Do to Conserve Agriculture Lands?
The Executive would support an alternative that conserves additional agricultural lands even if it's less acreage than the original proposal. One proposal would keep about 30,700 acres permanently in Agriculture.
This new ARL criteria would look like this.
- What ARL criteria exists today in the County Code, including the yield criterion.
- Plus additional criteria that excludes school properties and approved non-residential land uses.
- Those lands where owners have self-elected to have their land in the Current Use taxation program because they are doing agricultural activities and the Current Use program provides them tax relief
If the County Council made an amendment with this scenario it would represent about 30,700 acres and would conserve the best soils and a majority of the land being farmed today in Pierce County.
The Future of Farming in Pierce County
The future of farming is very bright in Pierce County with new farmers popping up everyday. The current drought conditions are extending the growing season allowing farmers to potentially make a lot more money off the land. As the weather continues to change in this region it is very possible that we will need local farmland to feed our growing populations for part of the year in Pierce County. California’s extended drought should be a warning to us that someday local farms may be more critical than we ever thought.