Kent Bids On Farmland

October 7, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDSKentCounty has made an offer to buy the development rights of five farms through its Purchase of Development Rights program. If the landowners agree to the offers from the county then those parcels couldn’t be sold for residential or commercial purposes.

The five farms total 394 acres. Two are located in SpartaTownship, two are situated in GrattanTownship, and one is in AdaTownship. Three of the five produce field crops, one is a dairy farm, and the fifth grows apples and cherries.

The County Agricultural Preservation Board can’t spend more than $2.16 million in this round of purchases, the third since county commissioners approved the ordinance in November 2002. Nor can the preservation board use any general tax dollars to purchase the rights, as commissioners have refused to commit tax dollars to the program.

Kendra Wills, of the Kent County MSU Extension Service, said the county has $854,400 in the farmland preservation fund — money that was awarded to the account from landowners, township boards and area foundations that can be used as matching funds for federal and state preservation grants.

Kent has applied for a $1.12 million grant from the Michigan Agricultural Preservation Fund, which, if received, will be added to the existing dollars to give the preservation board $1.97 million to buy the development rights from the five landowners.

“This is the first time that they’re awarding grants, and only 15 local units of government are eligible to apply this year,” said Wills of the new state fund.

Wills told the Business Journal that she didn’t think the county would get every dollar it asked for from the state. But she felt a good portion of the request would be filled because so few governmental units are eligible for the grant money, which is awarded as a three-to-one match and can cover three-quarters of a purchase.

“By December 31st we will know if we’ve gotten a grant from the state,” said Wills. “But it’s very difficult to get the 75 percent. So if we come up short we can still apply for federal funds in the spring.”

The price for an acre of farmland varies, depending on where the parcel is located. Land near the M-6 expressway, for instance, carries a higher price tag than a comparable parcel in a northern sector of the county that hasn’t attracted interest from developers.

“But if you took all the areas and averaged them, it’s about $3,000 to $3,500 (an acre) on average. But there are hotbeds like the Lowell area, which is pretty popular. The Gaines Township area is very popular because of the South Beltline, where a lot of sales have occurred,” said Wills.

“Kent County is so diverse and is such a large county, area-wise. And the school districts are all pretty different, so that has a lot to do with (the price). The quality of agricultural property is different. On the ridge there is orchard property, and those parcels sell for a different value than field-crop property.”

The county preservation board received 34 applications in this round from landowners with over 3,100 acres. Twenty-two of those who applied met the state’s funding guidelines. Board members selected the five properties from the 22.

So far, the county has purchased the rights from one landowner, having closed on that deal last April, and is in the process of wrapping up two more purchases from the second round.

According to the USDA 2002 Census of Agriculture, Kent County lost 24,570 farmland acres to residential and commercial developments from 1997 to 2002 — more acres than Ottawa and Allegan counties lost over that period combined. The county ranked fifth in the state for agricultural sales in 2002 with $149.7 million worth of products sold that year.    

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