Counties apply EFU zoning to agricultural lands protected under Statewide Planning Goal 3. EFU zoning is based on local comprehensive plans, which are adopted in accordance with state requirements.
EFU zoning reflects the state's agricultural land use policies by seeking to preserve agricultural land for commercial farming and ranching. This is accomplished by establishing large minimum lot sizes – typically 80 acres on farmland and 160 acres on ranchland. Large lot sizes help prevent the division of farms and ranches into smaller parcels that do not support commercial agriculture.
EFU zoning also helps prevent establishment of uses that are not compatible with agriculture. Widespread development of houses and amenities that serve urban populations on farmland can result in increased conflicts with agricultural practices. Agricultural practices like pesticide spraying, manure management, and movement of farm machinery, while critical for maintaining farm operations, are not pleasant to live with as a residential neighbor. EFU zoning helps ensure that farmers and ranchers can continue to operate by limiting the types and intensity of other uses allowed.
EFU zoning has changed over the years. In 1973, only 12 uses were allowed in EFU zones. Today the list has grown to more than 60. Although the primary use in EFU zones remains farming, the zone has been diversified to include a variety of uses such as agritourism, dog training, and destination resorts. The types of uses allowed often vary depending on the capability of soils for agricultural production. A complete list of uses allowed is provided in OAR 660-033-0120. In order to approve many uses that are not directly related to agriculture, a county must analyze whether the proposed use will significantly change or increase the cost of farming practices on surrounding lands.
The legislature has recognized that EFU zoning limits the use of agricultural land. As an incentive, land in an EFU zone that is primarily used to make a profit from farming qualifies for reduced taxes.
Oregon law spells out the standards and processes to approve development in EFU zones (ORS 215 and OAR Chapter 660, Division 33).