Urban Encroachment


The United States is primarily an urban population living in a rural nation, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS). Individuals in many areas of the country are concerned by the local loss of farmland, and as a result farmland preservation programs have been widely adopted. The motivation for these programs comes from public concern for food security, preservation of a rural lifestyle, environmental protection, and the prevention of urban sprawl. Despite the efforts to preserve farmland, the continued encroachment of new urban areas into agricultural regions creates a tension between the new inhabitants and the agricultural production operations that struggle to survive in the same location. However, not all effects of urbanization negatively affect agriculture. Urbanization may cause land values to drastically increase, raising the value of farm assets and providing potential retirement income to farmers. In addition, marketing opportunities and access to labor may provide economic benefits to agricultural producers. This overview focuses on farmland preservation programs and the potential legal issues that may arise as agricultural lands become urbanized. Read the full overview

Note: Recently added resources are posted at the top of the applicable sections.

Major Statutes

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, 16 U.S.C. § 3865
Healthy Forest Reserve Program, 7 C.F.R. part 625 (2010)
Forest Legacy Program 16 U.S.C. § 2103c
Conservation Easement Statutes (Farmland Information Center)
Uniform Conservation Easement Act (last revised or amended 2007)
Compilation of States’ Right-To-Farm Statutes (National AgLaw Center)
Compilation of States’ Recreational Use Statutes (National AgLaw Center)
Laws and Regulations that Apply to Your Agricultural Operation by Statute (EPA)


Agricultural Conservation Easement Program Regulations, 7 C.F.R. §§ 1468.1-1468.28
Healthy Forest Reserve Rules and Regulations, 7 C.F.R. part 625 (2010)
Federal Register Rules Open for Comment

Case Law

Case Law Index for Urban Encroachment (National AgLaw Center)

Center Research Publications

Issue Brief: Smithfield Foods and Right to Farm in North Carolina (R. Rumley, 2018)
States’ “Fence Law” Statutes (R. Rumley. 2021)
State-Specific Direct Marketing Business Guides (National AgLaw Center & U. IL @Urbana)
Right-to-Farm Statutes and Corporate Farming Laws (R. Rumley, 2009)
States’ Right-To-Farm Statutes (Springsteen, 2009)
Agricultural Contracts and the Leasing of Land – PowerPoint Presentation (R. Rumley, 2009)
States’ Recreational Use Statutes (Springsteen & Rumley, 2008)
Governments and Unconstitutional Takings: When Do Right-To-Farm Laws Go Too Far? (Centner, 2007)
The Constitutionality of Partition Fence Statutes in the Midwest (Molloy and Reid, 2004)
Zoning Limitations and Opportunities for Farm Enterprise Diversification (Branan, 2004)
Nuisance Immunity in Iowa’s Right-to-Farm Statute: A Taking Without Just Compensation? (Dzur, 2004)
Agricultural Zoning, Bankruptcy and the Rural Homestead (Laurence, 2003)

Congressional Research Service Reports

Reports– published and made available by CRS beginning in 2017
Subjects- published by CRS and made available by NALC until 2018:

Rural Development
Environmental Issues
Public Lands

Agricultural Law Bibliography

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Legal publications on Urbanization and Agriculture:

Corporate Farming (Restrictions on Corporate Farming/Family Farm Preservation)
Environmental Issues
Farm Policy and Legislative Analysis
Hunting, Recreation and Wildlife
Land Use Regulation

Land Use Planning and Farmland Preservation Techniques

Land Reform
Public Lands
Rural Development

Reference Resources

Economic Research Service (ERS)

Briefing Room: Land Use, Land Value, and Tenure
Briefing Room: Natural Amenities
Farmland Protection: The Role of Public Preferences for Rural Amenities(Hellerstein et al., 2002)
Partial Interests in Land: Policy Tools for Resource Use and Conservation (Wiebe et al.,1996)
Development at the Urban Fringe and Beyond: Impacts on Agriculture and Rural Land (Heimlich and Anderson, 2001)


Urbanization and its Implications for Food and Farming (Satterhwaite, McGranahan, & Tacoli, 2010)
Future Urban Land Expansion and Implications for Global Croplands (Bren d’Amour et. al., 2016)
Agricultural Conservation: A Guide to Programs, (Stubbs, 2018)
Impacts of the Federal Farm and Ranch Lands Program: An Assessment Based on Interviews with Participating Landowners (American Farmland Trust, 2013)
Ranch and Farmland Condemnation 101 (Donley, Potter & Heckelman, 2016)
Establishing Land Use Protections for Farmers’ Markets (Public Health Law & Policy, 2009)
Establishing Land Use Protections for Community Gardens (Public Health Law & Policy, 2010)
Land Use and Farmland Conversion (Agricultural Issues Center, U. CA, Davis, 2003)
Agricultural Sustainability and Smart Growth: Saving Urban-Influenced Farmland (Funders’ Network for Smart Growth and Livable Communities, Thompson, 2001)
Managing Space to Manage Growth (William & Mary Law School, Mandelker, 1999)
Agricultural Zoning Factsheet: Land Use Series (OH St. U. Extension, Hudkins, 2010)
Purchase of Development Rights: Land Use Series(OH St. U. Extension, Daubenmire and Blaine, 2010)
Lessons Learned in Eminent Domain (Ross, 2018)

Additional Resources

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (Office of the Federal Register, Commodity Credit Co., 2016)
Urbanization and Agriculture Posts (National AgLaw Center, Ag & Food Law Blog)
American Farmland Trust
Land Trust Alliance
Farmland Information Center
Land Use Law Center (Pace Law School)