Farmland protection policy in the U.S. is not a uniform, coherent national effort, but an assemblage of disparate state and local programs. Authority to guide or control land use change has been delegated by Congress to the states, and from there to local governments in most states. Policy has emerged incrementally as citizens in a particular place wrestle with the balance among private property rights, the interests of non-owners seeking a certain mix of land services, and the broader public interest. That balance differs over time and space; acceptable farmland policy changes as people feel greater growth pressure on farmland and at any point in time will vary depending on the cultural setting in different places. Farmland policy in California, for example, will always differ from that in Ohio or Maryland. The basic tools available to all governments are nearly the same, though selection among them is a local matter.
By Lawrence Libby