This CAE working paper begins with the assertion that establishing policies to encourage retention of quality farmland in viable farms is a worthy public objective. The author sketches out farmland use in selected Midwestern states, reviews the roles of markets in allocating rights to land and the place of policy in those markets, develops the notion of "the commons" in farmland use and a possible role for the public trust doctrine and concludes with brief recommendations for protecting farmland in the Midwest. The public trust doctrine in law may hold promise as a basis for a more active and effective public posture on farmland protection. The ecological character of well managed farmland is an important part of the public trust to protected in the interest of long term global food security and as potential sources of biological diversity. Managing the commons in farmlands requires that the general stake in future production capacity and other public good attributes be actively acknowledged and incorporated into land use policy by units of government large enough to encompass the affected population and small enough to address regional resource differences. Policy suggestions for improving farmland protection in the Midwest include comprehensive state assessments of agriculture, appraisals of local growth management and farmland protection policies, limited purpose metropolitan governing arrangements to deal with the economic linkages between agriculture and regional growth patterns and development of new farmland protection techniques such as development rights cooperatives.
In Pursuit of the Commons: Toward a Farmland Protection Strategy for the Midwest
Center for Agriculture in the Environment Working Paper
Lawrence W. Libby
DeKalb, IL: American Farmland Trust
January 01, 1997
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