Can farmers and commuters make good neighbors in the exurbs?

As noted in the last post, Indiana has a demographic layout similar to Minnesota’s (with a main industrial metropolis surrounded by suburbs, then exurbs).

One of the core issues for Indiana is farmland preservation and managing the corridor between urban and rural, which largely takes place in the exurban boundaries of the greater Indianapolis metropolitan area.

This article in the Indiana Business Review demonstrates just how big the conflict between farmland and urban areas has become for the state. Economic Research Analyst Tanya Hall looks where land classified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as prime farmland (land most suited to produce high yields of crops) falls in Indiana, She then analyzes the urban development that has taken over much of this land and looks at the amount of farmland that will likely be lost to urbanism by 2040.

When prime farmland is urbanized, farmers are forced onto land that requires more upkeep to produce high yields of crops or can’t produce the same amount of crops. This is why preserving prime farmland in agricultural uses has become a priority nationally, as well as from state to state.

The myriad of maps included in the article illustrate that Marion County, where Indianapolis sits, is full of prime farmland that can’t be used due to urban development.

This issue is not isolated to Indiana. While Baldwin Township’s sandy soil doesn’t qualify it as prime farmland, many other suburban and exurban counties around the Twin Cities have large amounts of this kind of land.


According to the last available USDA data from 1997, Wright County has more than 200,000 acres of prime farmland, some of it bordering Hennepin County.

Scott County has around 100,000 acres of prime farmland, much of it in rural middle and southern Scott. But around 25,000 acres are in Shakopee, where most of it cannot be used because of urban development that emerged in the last few decades.

Dakota County has 150,000 acres of prime farmland, 50,000 of which is in the Burnsville and Apple Valley areas.

Mcleod County, which has also seen quick growth and was classified as a Boom Town by, is full of prime farmland: over 225,000 acres are spread across the county.

Movement to preserve farmland began in the 1980s, but critics continue to argue that market values of land predicts how it gets used. Hall argues the market hasn’t resulted in satisfactory land use patterns in Indiana, partly because publicly funded infrastructure (such as highways, schools, sewer and water facilities) affect land value, thereby increasing market value artificially.

What should Minnesota do when prime farmland falls so close to a city? The state has made preserving open spaces, even within metropolitan areas, a priority, but what about its urban-bordering farms?

On the other hand, if a land owner can’t get full market value for their land, should the state be able to stop them from rezoning it for residential or urban uses?

Is there room in the exurbs for farmers and commuters to be neighbors?

  • Interesting! What a different world it’s going to be if we can keep farmland from being ‘developed’. Can we make farming a more lucrative business? One that people will want to keep in their communities?