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Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla explains the benefits and drawbacks to living near agricultural land

When I ask people what they love most about Yamhill County, invariably they say, "I love the open spaces, the small-town feel, the abundant natural resources."

For those of us who live on resource lands, many of those open spaces are commercial farmland managed by our neighbors and friends. And that commercial activity is the purpose of farm-zoned lands.

What to expect, then, when farming is next to your home?

My wife and I bought 17.5 acres zoned exclusive farm use (EFU) in 2006, after growing up on the coast, living in a medium-sized city and living in the remote North Cascades. We knew how to farm and we were renting farmland, but we'd never lived in the EFU zone. It took time and self-education and making mistakes to learn about living in a commercial ag landscape.

Now, in my role as county commissioner, I meet, talk with and listen to many people who live in the ag-zoned lands of our county, including folks not actively farming but who want to live in farmland because of the beauty and the wide-open spaces. To prepare residents for moving to farmland, the awesome and friendly Yamhill County Planning Department published a pamphlet available at https://bit.ly/33oUWLQ.

Beyond this basic information, it is important for folks to have reasonable expectations of adjacent farms (and quarries and forestry), and it is important to know the history and intent of EFU zoning. Finally, it is important for residents in farmland to know about the protections afforded to reasonable farming practices and how to talk with farmers about farming practices.

What commercial uses are allowed on land that surrounds you?

First, if you live next to mineral resource lands, you can learn what is allowed in the MR zone at https://bit.ly/3d4gFxj. If you live in EFU-zoned lands, learn what is allowed and expected at https://bit.ly/3daACSO. Even forest zones have their own expectations (https://bit.ly/2IQSunY). If you are unsure about the zoning around you, go to the Yamhill County GIS page to look at maps of your area at https://www.co.yamhill.or.us/gis.

What is the purpose of EFU zones?

The purpose of the EFU zone is to identify and protect land designated as EFU on the comprehensive plan that is suitable and desirable for commercial agricultural operations and other uses which are compatible with such operations.

Section 402.01 of the Yamhill County code says: "In Exclusive Farm Use Districts, nonfarm residential and other development which might likely be affected by normal farm management practices, will be limited or prohibited so as to maximize the productivity potential of vicinity farmlands."

In other words, EFU land is intended for commercial agriculture and other uses should be minimized to reduce conflict with farming. Even dwellings are intended to support the agriculture. Non-farm uses of land in the EFU zone must meet the "farm impacts test": the use may not "force a significant change in accepted farm or forest practices on surrounding lands devoted to farm or forest use or significantly increase the cost of accepted farm or forest practices on surrounding lands devoted to farm or forest use" under Oregon statute. When the county has discretion in decisions, new uses cannot significantly impact existing farms.

Farm-use zoning has a 60-year history in Oregon and it has been updated over the years. We've had the EFU zoning since 1963. In 1973, EFU zones became part of a statewide land use strategy with the passage of Senate Bill 100, which required comprehensive plans for every county and established the Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) and the Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC). Farmland protection has been updated every decade since then.

At the state level, the LCDC establishes goals and priorities for Oregon statewide planning and its volunteer members are appointed by the governor and confirmed by the senate. The DLCD is the LCDC's administrative arm and the state agency tasked with implementing land use. DLCD states in "Oregon Statewide Planning Goals" that "zoning applied to agricultural land shall limit uses which can have significant adverse effects on agriculture and forest land." Further, "non-farm uses permitted within farm use zones … shall be minimized to allow for maximum agricultural productivity."

Sometimes, your farmer neighbors will do things that seem like nuisances: spreading manure or running lights on a crop or digging trees on the weekend or spraying or employing wildlife deterrents. It is totally normal to be annoyed or even angered, but farm practices are protected by the state under the "right to farm" statute in https://bit.ly/2IVW28A. The brief document begins, "Legislation … declares farm and forest practices as critical to the welfare of the Oregon economy and establishes a right-to-farm law. This law protects growers from court decisions based on customary noises, smells, dust or other nuisances associated with farming. It also limits local governments and special districts from administratively declaring certain farm and forest products to be nuisances or trespasses."

Protected practices are those that are generally accepted, reasonable and prudent. But, while practices are protected, farmers and ranchers can be proactive about interacting with neighbors: communicate early and often; don't assume others know what you know; educate adjacent neighbors and growers about your practices; build your "goodwill" bank account; explain your dilemma; explain the time period of the practice; share options for what you could do and define for neighbors what is generally accepted, reasonable and prudent for your crop or situation.

If you are adjacent to a farm that is stinky, making dust or employing noise makers, you can be proactive by talking with the farmer and by employing the same suggestions. Assume the best intentions. Remember that farm practices in the EFU zone are protected. The "right to farm" law does not protect one farmer from damaging another farm or causing serious injury or death. You can find mediation help at the Oregon Dept of Agriculture: 503-986-4565.

I've shared some of the resources regarding the history, protections and intent behind the EFU zone and now it is your turn. If you live in EFU zones, take the time to talk with your neighbor-farmers, learn about the practices in your commercial agriculture neighborhood and remember that commercial agriculture is the primary activity in EFU zones.

We have the privilege of living in the beautiful, wide-open landscape, but the state and county intend that living here should support farming here. Let's support the farming even as we enjoy the place.

Yamhill County Commissioner Casey Kulla grows certified organic vegetables, tree fruits and state-licensed cannabis with his wife


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