The Garden Guide

Book: Landscape Planning and Environmental Impact Design: from EIA to EID
Chapter: Chapter 7 Agriculture, farming and countryside policy

Strategic agricultural reserve

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Agricultural surplus and shortage 

The history of agriculture is characterised by alternating periods of shortage and surplus. There is a time dimension to the planning of agricultural landscapes, and priorities change. After a war, it is right to turn swords into ploughshares. If food then becomes plentiful, it may be right to turn ploughshares into golf clubs, leisure vehicles, binoculars and fishing tackle. The second half of the twentieth century has been a period of agricultural surplus in the developed world, but we should never forget the historic tendency for 'seven fat years' to be followed by 'seven lean years'. Most of us keep a fire extinguisher, a stock of candles, some spare cash and other insurances against disaster. Likewise, it is normal for wealthy countries to keep an army, stocks of medical supplies, timber and food, in case of war or other disaster. We all feel more secure when such supplies are in existence. They are public goods. In the case of an insurance capacity to produce food, there is no reason why the strategic reserve should be financed by farmers. It is a public good which should be supplied from the public purse. But how? High quality agricultural land can be protected against building development, by planning or zoning controls. This needs to be done at national, regional and local scales. The switch from unbuilt land to built land is almost irreversible. Golf courses, community forests and nature reserves, however, can be planned with a view to future reclamation to agriculture [Fig 7.4]. Agricultural landowners need not be compensated for loss of development rights, because other landowners do not receive compensation in similar circumstances. But farmers should be rewarded for such positive acts as maintaining land drains and agricultural equipment. There is a timescale for bringing land back into production. In a one year period, grassland can be converted to arable. Over a ten year period, woodland can be cleared, farms built, people trained, drains laid, machinery acquired.