57 Acres of Prime Farmland Added to County Farmland Preservation Program
This August 11, 2022, Skagit County finalized a conservation easement on a 57-acre property to permanently protect the land for agricultural use.
The property, zoned Agricultural-Natural Resource Lands (Ag-NRL), sits six miles west of Interstate-5 between La Conner and Mount Vernon.
The protected property is owned by Joyce Johnson, who expressed her commitment to the viability of local agriculture by protecting her family farm into perpetuity. “My brothers and uncle were farmers, but they never owned their land. They would be so happy to know that I own this land. And now it’s protected.”
She adds, “My dad would be so happy to know about this news.”
“Ms. Johnson’s decision not only honors her forbearers but allows for future generations to farm this highly productive and irreplaceable farmland,” says Commissioner Ron Wesen, who represents the northwest district of Skagit County.
Ms. Johnson has six grandchildren, twelve great-grandchildren, and an eighth great-great-grandchild was born around her birthday this year. Ms. Johnson turned 104 years old this July.
The Johnson Farm
The newly protected Johnson farmland boasts a long history of growing a diversity of crops, including tulips, iris, and daffodils. The Johnson farm has been leased since 1979 to the Roozen family, owners of the Washington Bulb Company, one of the nation’s largest producers of tulip bulbs. Ms. Johnson’s husband Stan Johnson, deceased, and his family farmed the land prior to the Roozens.
The Johnson farm is 57.31 acres of open farmland that has been classified as ‘prime farmland’ by the Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture. Skagit County land zoned ‘Agricultural-Natural Resource Land’ (Ag-NRL), like Ms. Johnson’s property, is defined as “low flat land with highly productive soil and is the very essence of the County’s farming heritage and character.”
“That land is the best of the best,” says John Roozen, co-owner of the Washington Bulb Company along with his siblings. “I’m really excited about seeing it protected.” According to bulb company co-owner William Roozen, they will likely put in 20 acres of tulips behind Ms. Johnson’s house next spring.
Bulb crops rotate on a five-year-cycle to minimize soil disease, explains the Washington Bulb Co. website. Rotation crops are grown between bulb crop years. “We trade a lot of our ground, like the Johnsons’, with farming partners and a dairy farm partner,” says William Roozen.
“Farming is at the heart of what makes Skagit County such a special place,” says Commissioner and Chair Peter Browning, “but that legacy is at risk without people like Joyce Johnson. Ms. Johnson’s is the 190th property voluntarily protected by our farmer landowners. We owe them much gratitude.”
The Johnson farm is in close proximity to a number of Skagit County Farmland Legacy conservation easements. Approximately 290 acres of protected farmland surround Ms. Johnson’s farm in a one-mile radius. “Protecting contiguous parcels of farmland ensures Skagit farmers can continue feeding the world,” says Commissioner Lisa Janicki. “The future of farming is more secure because of the Johnson family’s decision to protect this agricultural land.”
Joyce Johnson’s 57 acres bring the total to more than 14,000 acres of Skagit County farmland – out of roughly 89,000 total acres of ag-zoned land – now protected from the threat of incompatible residential and industrial use. The county paid $110,000 in conservation futures tax funds for the permanent protection of Ms. Johnson’s farmland.
Skagit County’s Farmland Legacy Program
The Farmland Legacy Program is a county-funded initiative that compensates landowners for extinguishing residential development rights on agricultural lands in Skagit County. Owners are financially compensated for placing a perpetual conservation easement that restricts future uses to agriculture. Landowners retain ownership of their land and continue their farming operations as usual.
The program’s primary goals are to protect Skagit County’s agricultural productivity and character. Interested landowners are encouraged to reach out to the County. The farmland preservation program works with willing landowners of Ag-NRL to achieve mutually desirable transactions.
Total protected acreage as of August 2022 represents 16% of the roughly 89,000 acres designated Agriculture-Natural Resource land in Skagit County.
Despite strong land-use planning, the State of Washington continues to lose farmland to development—nearly 100,000 acres between 2001 and 2016. Over 50% of the land lost was considered the state’s best quality farmland, according to the American Farmland Trust’s recent report Farms Under Threat: The State of the States.
For 2022, the County has budgeted $1.8 million in conservation futures tax funds for the purchase of easements to protect additional agricultural land.
More information on Skagit County’s Farmland Legacy Program is available at skagitcounty.net/farmland or by calling 360-416-1417.