Dangerous Times for Natural Amenity Growth

Natural amenity growth relies on abundant land and water resources, and producers who use them wisely should be rewarded for their long-term vision in preserving them for us and future generations

Natural amenities can enhance an agriculture producer’s income and preserve the landscape for all of us. In the last few columns, we have discussed how attitudes will need to change to take advantage of natural amenity growth. Discussing change is easier when commodity prices are low and eagerness to do the right thing is stimulated by an economic benefit – a win-win situation.

Nebraskans have a long history of capitalizing on land and water to produce commodities, with notable success. Now that the staple crops of our region, corn and soybeans, have risen in price, signs of ignoring natural amenity growth are already appearing. Land previously taken out of production and put into reserve programs is sought after to go back into commodity production.

So what happens to our discussion of economic growth associated with natural amenities? First, and most importantly, any meaningful change will require a shift in attitude and behavior. It is so much easier for all of us to be righteous when production agriculture returns are low and the risk of change is less. Now, we must weigh those choices against a higher risk of economic loss.

According to the ECONorthwest study done to examine Nebraska’s potential for amenity-driven economic growth, producers are now faced with a preservation decision. Loggers in the Pacific Northwest realized forests could contribute more to the economy if left standing rather than stripped bare and cut into logs. The timber industry invested in the future and realized the total economy surrounding amenity growth would grow as well. Communities thrived while grocery stores, banks, and other businesses also reaped the benefits of this conscious decision to protect what they have.

Production agriculture is now experiencing a pivotal shift in attitude, and it will be easy for some to slip into a destructive pattern of getting as much as they can out of the land. Fence row to fence row crops will once again be the ultimate goal for some producers, and land exploitation rather than good stewardship now seems more likely than in the past two decades.

We need to find more ways to reward the producer who takes the risk to make sure the natural amenities we enjoy today remain intact and a part of our future and our children’s future.

Contact: Michael L. Holton, michaellh@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 x 1015 for more information on rural community development.

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