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Farmland Protection

Why is farmland important?

Farmland is a valuable, nonrenewable natural resource that serves several important economic and environmental functions. Crops and livestock raised on farmland provide food products and raw materials used to manufacture goods for consumers throughout the world. Farmland absorbs rainwater, helping replenish groundwater supplies and reduce flooding. It also provides habitat for wildlife and open space that enhances the landscape. Agriculture is one of Illinois' most important industries.

Directly and indirectly, the business of farming employs one million Illinoisans and 20 million others nationwide. Marketing of Illinois' agricultural commodities generates about $8 billion annually. Ag-related industries, such as farm machinery manufacturing, agricultural real estate, and production and sale of value-added food products contribute billions more to the state's economy. 

For example, food processing alone adds almost $11.5 billion annually to the value of Illinois' raw agricultural commodities. Farmland cannot be created; there is no practical way to mitigate the loss when acres are developed or converted to other uses. Once land has been developed or converted, it usually cannot be returned to production. Because development is often located on the best farmland, reliance on marginal land for production is increasing. Farming marginal land increases the risk of soil erosion and often requires more chemical inputs and complex management techniques. 

Illinois has lost 3.6 million acres of farmland since 1950, an average of almost 77,000 acres each year. From 1950 to 1990, the population of the United States increased by more than 97 million, and Illinois' population increased by more than 2.7 million. As the world's population continues to grow, so will the need for food and other goods produced from agricultural commodities. Preserving farmland is necessary to meet the needs of people in Illinois, the United States and around the globe.

Farmland Attributes

  • Provides food for domestic and foreign consumption
  • Provides raw materials used to manufacture building materials, paper, medicine, oils,​ fuel additives, polymers, resins and other goods
  • Absorbs rainwater, helping replenish groundwater supplies and reduce flooding
  • Provides wildlife habitat
  • Produces biomass for renewable energy sources such as ethanol
  • Provides outdoor recreational opportunities
  • Enhances quality and biological integrity of sensitive natural areas by acting as a buffer between development and natural areas
  • Provides open space, enhancing the quality of life in developing areas
  • Provides jobs for farmers and others working in ag-related industries
  • Serves as a source of local tax revenues, providing economic stability in rural areas

How is the Illinois Department of Agriculture involved in farmland protection?

The Agriculture Department works with other state agencies, planning commissions, and county governments to help reduce the extent to which farmland is affected by conversion or development. Department policy is not designed to limit or stop development, but minimize its impact on agricultural land, both in terms of acres lost and secondary impacts that may adversely affect farming operations. Staff review plans submitted by agencies, commissions and other governmental units and recommend changes to encourage contiguous, compact development. The Agriculture Department is also involved in reclaiming farmland affected by mining and restoring the mined land's productivity.

How does the Agriculture Department interact with other state agencies?

Under the Farmland Preservation Act of 1982, state agencies must establish agricultural land preservation policies and working agreements with the Agriculture Department. These documents guide agencies in their efforts to minimize farmland conversion and other adverse agricultural impacts associated with their programs and activities. The Agriculture Department reviews plans for construction and other development projects submitted by agencies to determine if they comply with the submitting agency's policy and working agreement. With utility projects, such as the installation of gas or water lines, department staff also work to ensure plans contain construction and restoration standards that leave affected areas in good condition after projects are completed.

How does the Agriculture Department work with county governments?

The Department advises county governments interested in forming or expanding ag areas. Ag areas preserve the integrity of farming operations within their boundaries by providing a means of keeping land in agricultural use for an extended period of time. When property is enrolled in an ag area, it must remain in agricultural use for at least 10 years. After 10 years, land may be re-enrolled every eight years. Land within an ag area is protected from locally initiated projects that would convert the land to other uses. 

Landowners with property enrolled are exempt from local laws that would unreasonably restrict normal farming practices and from special benefits assessments that are not in their best interests. While county governments are responsible for adopting and implementing ag areas within their borders, they may request assistance from the Agriculture Department. More than 100,800 acres of Illinois cropland is currently registered in 44 ag areas in 20 counties.

Land Evaluation Site Assessment Systems

The Agriculture Department helps county governments adopt appropriate land evaluation site assessment systems (LESAs). Often used in rezoning matters, these county-specific systems help local officials determine if land should remain in agricultural use or if another land use would be suitable. Department staff assist county officials in choosing relevant assessment criteria, such as compatibility with surrounding land use, planned land use, road systems and distance from city limits. When land is assessed using the county's LESA system, the property is ranked according to these criteria and other factors related to soil type. A property's LESA score helps local officials decide which use is most appropriate.

How is the Agriculture Department involved in mined land reclamation?

Agriculture Department staff serve as advisors to the coal mining industry and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources in mined land reclamation and restoration efforts. The Agriculture Department reviews mining permit applications to ensure they contain adequate farmland reclamation plans. Employees conduct on-site mine inspections to monitor the quality and timeliness of reclamation work. By overseeing the collection of crop samples on mined land, the Department helps determine whether yields meet specified targets that correspond to the land's pre-mining production levels.

Documents, Standards, and Policies



For More Information

Illinois Department of Agriculture 
Bureau of Land and Water Resources 
P.O. Box 19281 
State Fairgrounds 
Springfield, IL 62794-9281