8 Facts on True Costs of Losing Farmland to Urban Sprawl Economic Benefits of Farmland Preservation

Economic Benefits of Farmland Preservation

  • Over 80 Costs of Community Services Studies done across the United States find that agricultural “…lands make a positive fiscal impact, while residential development is a financial drain.” [1] Essentially, citizens subsidize developers.
  • Studies in other municipalities have shown that residential development of open space land often costs cities (taxpayers) more than the added tax revenues from the new homes, and purchasing land to preserve open space can have lower taxpayer costs than allowing development.[2]
  • Many studies have found that people are willing to pay more for houses close to farmland.  This can increase property tax revenues to a point that makes farmland preservation self-financing.[3]
  • Each dollar invested in soil conservation would save society more than five dollars.”[4]
  • Farmland is the living foundation of all material wealth.  Classical economics neglects the fundamental problem of resource depletion – “…we simply cannot afford to view agriculture as just another business because the benefits of soil conservation can be harvested only after decades of stewardship, and the cost of soil abuse is borne by all.”[5]

The Costs of Sprawl

  • The City of Edmonton has estimated that the infrastructure deficit is $19 billion from 2009 to 2018.[6]
    • $1.2 billion projected bill for unfunded infrastructure for neighbourhoods already approved for development[7]
    • $1.2 billion projected bill for unfunded infrastructure for Urban Growth Areas

Essentially, by approving the Horse Hill ASP, Council would be adding another $1.2 billion in infrastructure costs that it has no plan to pay for.  This on top of $1.2 billion in infrastructure costs already committed to, with no plan for how to pay.  Developers/homebuyers pay some of the upfront costs for development, building road and sewers, and providing land for parks.  The City has to fund the development of parks; contribute to building larger roads; buy land for and build recreation centres, fire and police stations, and libraries.  The $1.2 billion figure does not include operating costs for recreational and emergency services, snow removal, road  and sewer maintenance, road widening, building interchanges, public transit, the list goes on.

  • The Canadian urban population grew 45 percent between 1971 and 2001.  The amount of urbanized land grew 96 percent during the same period; we have more than doubled our use of land per person.[8]
  • “Powerful levers are working in a manner that directly undermines the objectives of planning, smart growth, and the curtailment of sprawl.” [9] These levers result from municipal fiscal policies that allocate costs to households on the basis of average use rather than proportional to actual costs of different types of development and from other poorly designed policies that create mis-pricing and market distortions.


[1] Freedgood, Julia (2002). Cost of Community Services Studies: Making the Case for Conservation. American Farmland Trust.  (Fact Sheet Summary – http://www.farmlandinfo.org/documents/27757/FS_COCS_8-04.pdf

[2] Crompton, John L. The Impact of Parks and Open Spaces on Property Taxes. The Economic Benefits of Land Conservation. The Trust for Public Land. http://www.tpl.org/publications/books-reports/park-benefits/the-economic-benefits-of-land.html

[3] Lynch, Lori. (2007). Economic Benefits of Farmland Preservation. The Economic Benefits of Land Conservation. The Trust for Public Land. http://www.tpl.org/publications/books-reports/park-benefits/the-economic-benefits-of-land.html

[4] Montgomery, David (2007). Dirt:  The Erosion of Civilizations. University of California Press.

[5] Montgomery, David (2007). Dirt:  The Erosion of Civilizations. University of California Press.

[6] Gilbert, R. (2011, March 28). Infrastructure Plan Sorely Needed to Address Deficit. Journal of Commerce: Western Canada’s Construction Newspaper. Retrieved January 19, 2013, from http://www.joconl.com/article/id43581

[7] City of Edmonton. (2012). Growth Coordination Strategy, Draft 5.

[8] Blais, Pamela (2010). Perverse Cities. UBC Press. http://perversecities.ca/

[9] Blais, Pamela (2010). Perverse Cities. UBC Press. http://perversecities.ca/