Urban fringe pressure poses grave consequences to agriculture in the United States. According to the American Farmland Trust, agricultural production land is lost at a rate of nearly an acre per minute due to development across the nation. Montgomery County is of no exception. In the past 16 years Montgomery County has lost 17 percent of prime farmland totaling 46,531 acres due, in part, to urban sprawl.

Urban sprawl results in undeveloped tracts of land mixed within developed parcels of land as well as subdivisions. This creates a "swiss cheese" effect on urban land and results in inefficient agricultural practices. As random tracts of land are directly converted through development to non-agricultural land use there is an immediate collapse of agricultural productivity. Indirectly, the future use (opportunity cost) is high as expansion of agricultural practices become limited.

Agricultural practices such as fertilizing and pesticide applications may become limiting due to their potential affect on human health, safety and well being when applied near residential or commercially developed areas. In addition, agricultural producers are often limited as to the technologies that may be employed when land areas are dismembered. This land dispersion effect, due to development, creates inefficiencies amongst agricultural practices often resulting in higher production costs and thus lower income to producers and lower tax dollars in the community.

Prime farm land is defined by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as any land in which it is best suited to food, feed, forage, fiber and oilseed crops. Indiana ranks number two in the nation for prime farmland. It accounts for 58 percent of Indiana's total land area. In Montgomery County, agricultural production constitutes 70 percent of our total land area and is comprised of nearly 400 families.

Urban sprawl that results in this "swiss cheese" effect poses a great threat to the livelihood of those families to whom we have become reliant for our food and fiber production.

What are your thoughts? Is it time to protect the agricultural land of Montgomery County that is deep rooted in history and steeped in family values? I encourage your opinions and thoughts on the subject.

Rhonda Walker is the Agriculture and Natural Resources Educator for Purdue Cooperative Extension - Montgomery County located at 400 Parke Avenue, Crawfordsville. She may be reached at (765) 364-6363 or via email at walke229@purdue.edu.