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Introduction and Relevance to Northeastern Illinois

Agriculture continues to have relevance and importance in the United States as an economic activity and way of life. The Illinois General Assembly adopted the definition of agriculture in the Farmland Preservation Act as "all land in farms including cropland, hayland, pastureland, forestland, corrals, gardens and orchards, land used for farmsteads, buildings, barns, and machinery sheds, adjacent yards or corrals, pens, waste lagoons, feedlots, farmstead or feedlot windbreaks, grain bins, lanes for farm residences and fields, field windbreaks, ponds, commercial feedlots, greenhouses, nurseries, broiler facilities and farm landing strips"(ILGA). The preservation of agriculture is not only a land use choice; it is the preservation of an interconnected system that relates to the environment, the people, and the economy.

At the calculation of the 2002 Agricultural Census, Illinois had 27.3 million acres of farmland. In 1974, total acreage was approximately 1.8 million acres greater (USDA NASS). This translates to an average loss of over 63,000 acres of farmland each year, for the last 28 years. Of the 24 million acres dedicated to growing crops, 89% is considered prime farmland--placing Illinois in the top three states for total acreage of prime farmland (USDA NASS). According to the Illinois Department of Agriculture, Illinois was ranked second in terms of exports of agricultural products, averaging $4 billion worth of goods shipped to other countries each year (Illinois Department of Agriculture, 2004). Illinois' agricultural contribution to the state and national economy, paired with the continual loss of agricultural land, is a strong motive to increase preservation efforts.

Several other trends have sparked further interest in agricultural preservation: continued development of greenfields, a major increase in biofuel production, recent food cost increases, and growing demand for organic and locally produced food. Development is occurring outside of city and suburban limits at rapid rates which is encroaching upon agricultural land. Farmers without strong incentives or promising options for farming fruitfully are likely to opt in selling their land for development purposes. Additionally, farmers face competition for space with the infrastructure that new growth requires.

In January of 2007, President George W. Bush announced that by 2017, the United States' production of ethanol should reach 35 billion gallons, and increase to 60 billion gallons by 2030 (The National Academies, 2007); the anticipation has driven major spikes in the demand for corn and other products such as wheat--creating new opportunities and challenges for the preservation of agricultural land, as well as contributing to food price increases. Also, more attention to nutrition and carbon footprints has broadened the market for organic and local food, shifting some traditional farming to more specialized food markets.

Agricultural preservation is significant at the local, state, federal, and even global levels. This strategy paper explores the challenges and opportunities that preservation offers for the region. First, this paper will define agricultural preservation. Second, it will identify the existing conditions of the agricultural sector, most importantly the state's inventory of land, current policies, and the level of commodity production. Third, this paper seeks to measure the effects of preserving agricultural land on the environment, economy, and land use. Finally, there are case studies, highlights from the region, and a summary of regional interviews available as a PDF document.

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