Jump to main navigation. Jump to main content

The CURA publications library is currently being digitized by the University of Minnesota Digital Conservancy. When the project is complete, the entire CURA publications library will be online and fully searchable. Unfortunately, during this process we are not able to honor individual requests for publications . Additionally, we no longer have physical copies of publications to send out.

New publications are digitized daily and the publications catalog on the CURA website is not automatically updated with links to scanned copies, so please search the CURA collection at the Digital Conservancy for the publications you are looking for:

Farmland Preservation in Scott and Dakota Counties

Cureton, Colin.

Agriculture in Minnesota has, as in much of the country, been going through a tumultuous transition. The loss of the small farm is a common story, as is the tendency toward agricultural consolidation and a general loss of farmland due to development pressure. Amidst these changes, land use and agricultural preservation policies are also put in place at the State, county, township, and local levels. Some of these policies encourage development, some attempt to preserve farmland and succeed, and others attempt to preserve farmland but fall short. The following section examines the changes in the agricultural land bases of Scott and Dakota Counties, two of seven counties in Minnesota’s Twin Cities metropolitan area. This comparison is useful given their geographic proximity, similar development pressures, similar agricultural land bases, yet divergent local land use and agricultural preservation policies. While future analysis should connect the transitions in agriculture to the local agricultural preservation policies, the primary purpose of this report is only to identify the agricultural transitions themselves.

First, a brief introduction is given to each county and their respective land use and agricultural preservation policies. Next, statewide data based on satellite photography from 1990 and 2000 are analyzed. The second analysis section examines Geographic Information System (GIS) data sets for 2005 and 2010 in both counties. Greater detail is given to these years, including an analysis of changes in land area, number of parcels in agriculture, average agricultural parcel size, and loss of agricultural parcels based on parcel size. Finally, both time periods are tied together to examine the shifts in agriculture experienced by both counties over the past 20 years.

Overall, total agricultural land declined in both counties during both time periods. Between 1990 and 2000 the counties lost between one-quarter to one-third of their agricultural land and saw corresponding increases in total urban land cover. Both trends were greater in Scott County relative to each county’s overall land base. Between 2005 and 2010 total agricultural land area continued to decrease, as did number of agricultural parcels, and average parcel size increased. Whereas Scott County lost 13% of its agricultural parcels and 5% of agricultural land, Dakota County lost 22% of agricultural parcels but only 2% of agricultural land. This imbalance in Dakota County between number of parcels and overall land lost is the result of a steep loss in the smallest agricultural parcels (those less than 5 acres in size). This suggests a divergence between Scott and Dakota counties in which both are losing similar percentages of agricultural parcels but Dakota County is stemming the loss of its overall agricultural land area. Furthermore, the analysis of agricultural loss by parcel size shows a loss distributed across several parcel size categories in Scott County, whereas parcel loss in Dakota County were greatest by far in the smallest parcel size category (0-5 acres). Despite this divergence, the total area lost was concentrated in larger categories due to each parcels overwhelmingly larger size (i.e. losing one 200 acre farm is equivalent to losing twenty 10 acre farms).

Finally, while future research on demographic, economic, and development trends is suggested to bring greater context, this analysis suggests that local land use and agricultural preservation policy are one possible factor in explaining these changes in agriculture.

Publication date: 
Conducted on behalf of Farmer’s Legal Action Group (FLAG). Supported by Neighborhood Partnerships for Community Research (NPCR), a program of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs (CURA) at the University of Minnesota.
18 pp.
Online availability
Download from CURA: 
CURA call number: