Comprehensive Plan – Land Use and the Environment
Preserving farmland is a prominent land use and environment topic, so let’s review the historical trends impacting Mason County’s farmland.
In 1974 most of Mason County’s rural income was provided by dairy and tobacco. Both encouraged multi-year crop rotations that justified many acres of pasture and hay. Today dairy is gone, and tobacco is nearly gone. Some landowners attempted to replace their lost income by selling land for development. Other landowners planted more cash grain. Both strategies quickly deplete precious topsoil and silently steal Mason County’s ability to support vegetation.
USDA reports that Mason County lost 17,960 acres of farmland between 1987 and 2017. Most of these acres had their topsoil removed for commercial development or for housing along road frontages and in platted subdivisions.
US Census reports Mason County’s population DECREASED by 7.6% from 1981 to 2021. Our next comprehensive plan should encourage new profitable rural enterprises that preserve topsoil and discourage consuming additional farmland to house a declining population.
In 1986 the most recent USDA Soil Survey of Mason County showed around 34,000 Prime Farmland acres. Although total farmland acres available shrank, Mason County harvested 16,000 more crop acres in 2017 than in 1992. The tobacco and dairy revenue loss drove local farmers to expose more acres to cash grain. USDA records show – corn acres harvested increased to 8,400 in 2021 from only 4,500 in 2000. Mason County’s Soybean harvest exploded to 11,100 acres in 2021 from only 900 acres in 2000. This 10,200 acres increase in soybeans is particularly troubling because soybeans cause a higher rate of soil erosion than corn or almost any other crop.
If we hope to preserve our precious topsoil, this comprehensive plan must embrace old and new ways rural resources can fulfill current market needs.
- It must provide landowners with an economically viable way to preserve local topsoil.
- It must balance future generations’ living standards and prosperity with current residents’ preferences by reducing artificial barriers that increase the land needed to produce the same value.