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Farmland Protection

For more than four decades, Oregon has maintained a strong policy to protect farmland. The state legislature adopted the policy in 1973. It calls for the "preservation of a maximum amount of the limited supply of agricultural land" (Oregon Revised Statutes 215.243).

The main tool for carrying out that policy is the statewide planning program. Oregon's Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) sets standards and criteria for protecting farmland. The cities and counties then apply these state requirements through local comprehensive plans and land-use ordinances. Under this system, all counties in Oregon have adopted planning and zoning measures to protect agricultural land.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Statewide Planning Goal 3 defines agricultural land using soil types and other factors. Land with soils capable of agricultural production are considered "agricultural land" and are protected under Goal 3 and exclusive farm use (EFU) zoning. Other lands may also be protected under Goal 3 and EFU zoning if they are suitable for grazing, used by farm and ranch operations, or necessary to permit farm practices to be undertaken on adjacent or nearby lands.

Just over 26 percent—or 16.3 million acres—of Oregon's land was in non-federal agricultural use in 2015.

Agriculture is one of the state's biggest industries. Farming and ranching are important sectors of Oregon's agricultural industry, and are critical drivers of the state's economy. In 2015, Oregon's agricultural sector produced $5.7 billion. Agriculture is linked economically to approximately 13 percent of all Oregon sales and 11 percent of the state's economy. Agriculture supports more than 326,000 jobs, almost 14 percent of all jobs in the state.

Oregon is the top producer in the nation of thirteen crops including hazelnuts, fescue seed, and Christmas trees. The state's agriculture is also one of the most diverse in the nation with over 225 different types of crops and livestock.

A vibrant local farm economy requires a critical mass of farmland. When too much residential development encroaches on farmland, a downward cycle of conversion can begin, in which farms experience conflicts with neighbors, such as trespass, littering, pets chasing livestock and complaints about spraying, manure application, hours of operation and other normal farming practices.

When conflicts become disruptive, farmers stop making investments in their operations and may seek to divide and sell their land for development or use it for other purposes. The division and sale of farmland for non-farm purposes drives up land prices, often putting it out of the reach of existing farms and new farmers wanting to enter the market. As farm operations scale down or leave, farm infrastructure, such as feed stores, processing facilities and irrigation districts may start to disappear, affecting the ability of the remaining farm community to be successful, and driving the cycle of conversion.

Oregon's agricultural lands protection program has reduced many of these problems relative to other parts of the country, but the threats still exist. Existing zoning, tax, and right-to-farm policies encourage continued farm use, but new challenges continue to appear and growth pressures will likely continue in many parts of the state.

Oregon's statewide program requires counties to:

  1. Inventory farmland
  2. Show these lands in the county's comprehensive plan
  3. Adopt policies to preserve farmland in the comprehensive plan
  4. Zone farmland EFU (exclusive farm use) consistent with state law

Oregon's program emphasizes availability of land, free from conflicts, for use by commercial agriculture. Comprehensive plan policies must strive to minimize conversion of farmland to other uses. EFU (exclusive farm use) zoning limits development that could conflict with farm practices. Zoning also retains farmland in large blocks by prohibiting subdivision into parcels too small for commercial farming. Land in an EFU zones is eligible for lower property taxes when the land is farmed. All 36 counties in Oregon have implemented EFU zoning.

The capability of land for farming also plays a role in where urban development goes. The criteria in ORS 197A.320 and Statewide Planning Goal 14 for expanding an urban growth boundary include consideration of whether the land is high-value farmland. High-value farmland must be avoided to the extent practicable. Similarly, a decision to establish or amend an urban reserve must only include high-value farmland when no other options exist.

Goal 14 also requires cities and counties to plan for growth in population and employment and that this growth is to be contained inside urban growth boundaries. Counties are not expected, or allowed, to plan for expected growth to occur outside urban growth boundaries. Containing growth inside urban growth boundaries reduces the pressure to convert farmland around cities to subdivisions, stores, and offices.

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).

Yes! Just driving through farmland in Oregon provides persuasive evidence that EFU zoning has been able to protect large areas of land from conversion to other uses, particularly sprawling and costly residential subdivisions. The comparison to other parts of the country is now stark, especially at the edges of urban areas, where in most states low-density residential development continues to leap-frog across the landscape, forcing the premature conversion of farms to other uses.

The impact of EFU zoning may also be reflected in recent farm trends that show a healthy agricultural sector. Zoning that limits land partitioning, speculation, and adjacent conflicting uses leaves farmers and ranchers free to pursue farming and confident enough of a long-range future in farming to make continued investments in their operations.

Yes. Dwellings in rural areas are typically limited to detached single-family structures. State rules prohibit new dwelling in EFU zones unless applicants can show compliance with certain standards. Seven options exist for establishing a dwelling in an EFU zone:

  1. As a primary dwelling for the farm operator. Approval of this type of dwelling typically requires evidence of earned farm income over the past several years.
  2. As an accessory dwelling for a relative of the farm operator. For relatives whose assistance is necessary for management of a commercial farming operation.
  3. As an accessory dwellings for farm help not related to the operator. Evidence of earned farm income is typically required. This can include multi-unit farm worker housing.
  4. On a "lot of record" that has been in the same ownership since 1985.
  5. As a "nonfarm dwelling." May be sited on an existing or new parcel that is unsuitable for production of crops, livestock, or trees.
  6. Temporarily during a medical hardship of a family member.
  7. To replace a dwelling that currently or previously existed.

New dwellings in an EFU zone have also been authorized as a result of Ballot Measures 37 and 49.

DLCD prepares a Farm & Forest Report every two years that summarizes recent permit activity in EFU zones across the state. The report gives numbers and locations for newly approved land divisions, as well as for newly approved farm and non-farm dwellings.

Resource Documents

2016-2017 Farm and Forest Report

Related Links

Farm and Forest Decision Reporting

Oregon Department of Agriculture

Oregon Farm Bureau

Contacts

Tim Murphy
Farm & Forest Lands Specialist
timothy.murphy@state.or.us
Phone: 503-934-0048

DLCD Regional Representatives
Regional Representatives by Region

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