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8 May 2016 - We Need to Preserve Productive Farmland

I am often asked - “Do you read your e-mails?” “Do you read your regular mail?” My reply to both questions is YES, but not always immediately. It takes time to get to the volume of e-mails I receive every day. But I do read your e-mails because I get story and Samuelson Sez ideas which is the case with this week’s topic.

It deals with a local issue, but it could happen anywhere in the country. I quote parts of an e-mail I received this past week from a farmer in northern Illinois just west of Chicago who said - “I hear you say we are adding two-billion people to the planet by 2050. I hear you say we need to feed them. I hear you say we don’t have any new farmland; so we are going to have to feed them with technology.” My response is ‘You are correct.’

Then he goes on to say “What about covering productive farmland which we are now proposing to do in northern Illinois, northern Indiana, southern Wisconsin?”

This is the story. Chicago is the railroad hub for the center of the nation with rail freight heading north, south, east or west moving through the city and suburbs in huge daily volumes. Drivers in this large urban community would like to eliminate a lot of railroad crossings that slow traffic everyday. Railroads moving through the mid-section of the country would like to speed up the movement of freight through this highly congested area. So the rails are proposing to build a new rail line that would go south and west of Chicago, well outside the metropolitan area...and there comes the very emotional controversy.

It would be a 275-mile rail line that would cut through farms in northern Illinois, northern Indiana and southern Wisconsin, some of the prime farm land in the Midwest. In many cases, farms would be divided by the tracks making it difficult and dangerous for farmers to get to all areas of their property. One more major concern, they are also planning to build a rail yard that would take another 15,000 acres of farm land.

There are arguments on both sides of this issue and I realize we are living in a far different time than a century ago when the world had far fewer people and far more arable land, and we needed land for roads, railroads, schools and parks and other public needs. Eminent domain played a prominent role in getting the land to do that.

But now for the reasons stated in the e-mail from the farmer, it is getting more difficult. The problem with farm land, once it’s taken for railroads, highways or buildings, it can no longer produce food.
I can understand both sides of this issue. But I say we have to be far more careful in how we use our productive farm land, because once we cover it, we can never get it back.

My thoughts on Samuelson Sez.