Kai Hagen

Farmers are reclaiming unused sprawl to grow crops

How the times have changed: while residential land prices in America have fallen by a staggering 70 percent since 2006, the value of cropland has actually risen some 20 percent, according to a story by Robbie Whelan in the Wall Street Journal. This is causing a shift away from the once-dominant trend of conversion of agricultural land to suburban sprawl and toward reversion of land held for suburban development back to farming:

With crop prices soaring and housing in a deep slump, the economics of land investment have turned upside down. Farmers and investors are buying land that had been slated for development and using it for agriculture. And they are paying a small fraction of what housing developers paid for the same land before the recession.

The trend, if it continues, could represent a historic shift away from development in the far reaches of metropolitan areas. These properties had fueled much of the housing industry's bubble last decade.

This is further evidence of a change in land economics noticed three years ago by Daniel Pimlott in the Financial Times and reported here.

There are, of course, significant differences from region to region, depending on the relative strength of local markets for housing and farm products. The Journal article includes an impressive map (also available here) showing a decrease in cropland prices in some places (notably the Northeastern states) of up to 14 percent since 2006, but a moderate to high increase in the vast majority of the country (including a 90 percent increase in Arizona).

Together the stories by Whelan and Pimlott cite examples in Illinois, Arizona and California of farmers reclaiming land once slated for sprawl development in order to grow corn, soybeans, hay, cotton, grapes, and walnuts. Whelan quotes a broker in Illinois who sold some subdivision land to corn and soybean farmers:

The primary thing that was driving development here was people's desire and willingness to get out of the city.  But development is over. It's done ... it'll be 15-20 years before this land is developed.

When the world’s leading outlets of financial journalism take notice, something is happening.

This post originally appeared on the NRDC's Switchboard blog.

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. Transportation

    You Can’t Design Bike-Friendly Cities Without Considering Race and Class

    Bike equity is a powerful tool for reducing inequality. Too often, cycling infrastructure is tailored only to wealthy white cyclists.

  2. Equity

    Capturing Black Bottom, a Detroit Neighborhood Lost to Urban Renewal

    “Black Bottom Street View,” now exhibiting at the Detroit Public Library, thoughtfully displays old images of the historic African American neighborhood in its final days.

  3. Multi-colored maps of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Tampa, denoting neighborhood fragmentation
    Equity

    Urban Neighborhoods, Once Distinct by Race and Class, Are Blurring

    Yet in cities, affluent white neighborhoods and high-poverty black ones are outliers, resisting the fragmentation shown with other types of neighborhoods.

  4. Design

    There’s a Tile Theft Epidemic in Lisbon

    With a single azulejo fetching hundreds of euros at the city’s more reputable antique stores, these tiles, sitting there out in the open, are easy pickings.

  5. A photo of a visitor posing for a photo with Elvis in downtown Nashville
    Perspective

    Cities: Don’t Fall in the Branding Trap

    From Instagram stunts to Edison bulbs, why do so many cities’ marketing plans try to convince people that they’re exactly like somewhere else?