Nationally, the controversy rages over the issue of whether the farmland conversion syndrome has reached crisis proportions or has been greatly exaggerated. In many areas of the country, the future need for farmland preservation may be long range or even non-existent since overproduction rather than shortage poses the most imminent threat to many sectors of American agriculture. In some areas, however, the crisis has occurred, time has already run out, and most current farmland preservation approaches are inadequate and meaningless. New approaches and concepts are necessary.
The crisis analysis certainly seems appropriate at the current time in the northern portion of the Florida citrus belt. The virtually unprecedented freeze of December 1983, the outbreak of citrus canker in 1984, and another precedent setting freeze in some areas in early 1985, has left the future agricultural status of thousands of acres of land in grave doubt. Many of these acres, which have been devoted to profitable citrus production for many years, are now experiencing the devastating effects of the farmland conversion syndrome.
The spector of citrus trees being sacrificed to bulldozers and the infestation of condominiums or retirement housing is by no means new in the northern half of the Florida citrus belt. Nonetheless, the relative prosperity of the citrus industry had made agricultural use of land an economically viable alternative to urban sprawl until the past few months. Now, with the large scale destruction of citrus groves by freeze and disease, countless grove owners find land development much more appealing than replanting. If farmland preservation is ever to be a meaningful concept to prevent the conversion of vast areas of groveland to non-agricultural uses, there must be an immediate and perhaps drastic response. Central Florida does not have time to argue over the crisis analysis. The crisis is at hand. This crisis will likely provide an immediate testing ground for farmland preservation programs. Consequently, potential responses to the crisis should be of particular importance to all of those interested in farmland preservation throughout the nation. In short, precedent helpful to other jurisdictions could be in the making in Florida.
This presentation offers a proposal that could provide a meaningful framework for tailoring a farmland preservation program to respond to the Florida crisis. The legal framework for various farmland preservation programs is explored elsewhere in this colloquium; and the author has expressed his view on several previous occasions. This presentation will therefore concentrate on the formulation and implementation of farmland programs and on a somewhat novel approach – a farmland preservation impact fee.
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