Farming is part of Dakota County’s heritage. Generations of farmers have tilled Dakota County’s fertile soils to produce food for their families, the region and the world. Today, Dakota County agriculture consists primarily of corn, soybeans and livestock, but also includes wheat, alfalfa, hay, vegetables, and farm market produce.
Agricultural land lost
The amount of agricultural land has dwindled in Dakota County through the years. In 1950, about 85 percent (316,000 acres) was used for agricultural production. By 1997, that percentage decreased to about 60 percent (221,000 acres). Substantial amounts of farmland were removed from agricultural production in the 1980s and 90s. According to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture, Dakota County has 246,026 acres in agriculture – a loss of almost 70,000 acres in 57 years.
Together, farms and farm-related businesses represent a total economic impact on the County’s economy of greater than $573 million, according to the 2007 U.S. Census of Agriculture. Loss of productive farmland to residential and commercial development in Dakota County has wide-ranging impacts, including loss of wetlands and wildlife habitat; rapidly increasing pavement that transports pollutants in storm water to rivers, lakes and wetlands; and soil loss and erosion from increasing construction.
Agricultural land has been phased out to make room for the growing suburbs in the County. While most of this growth has occurred in suburban communities in a planned and orderly way, rural residential development in the townships also threatens agricultural areas. It is this farmland outside of the 2030 Metropolitan Urban Service Area (lands where city sewer and water are planned) that is the focus of protection.
County only works with willing landowners to protect land
The County’s farmland and natural areas protection strategy focuses on soil productivity, local/regional plans, wildlife habitat, water quality and future use. Using these criteria, approximately 42,000 acres were identified as priorities for protection. The County works with willing landowners to protect farmland and natural areas by purchasing permanent agricultural conservation easements. The landowner retains the rights to use, rent, transfer, or sell the land; however, the property within the easement cannot be developed.
Applying for the Farmland and Natural Areas Program
Applications for the Farmland and Natural Areas Program (FNAP) are accepted year-round. Each year, the County Board approves deadline dates for submitting pre- and final applications. Applications submitted prior to these deadlines are considered in each year’s application round project evaluation. See the Application Process to find out more.