Creating farmable slopes usually a win-win proposal
In agricultural areas like Idaho, using every square foot of available farmland is paramount. Creating more tillable land and safeguarding taxpayer funds in the process is a winning combination.
ITD frequently enters into a “farmable slopes” agreement in farming communities throughout the state. Although the specific details may differ from one location to another, the benefits remain the same: sustaining agricultural production and the economy, preserving the environment and land stewardship and fostering good public-private relationships.
Keeping land in production reduces expenditures ITD would otherwise incur to seed, fertilize, mulch and weed slopes next to state highways. Flattening the slopes so that local landowners can farm them reduces ITD’s maintenance costs, reduces erosion and improves highway safety, all of which support goals in the department’s new strategic plan.
Creating farmable slopes supports farming practices, which in turn helps to stimulate the local economy.
ITD is using a variation of the farmable slopes program on Idaho 162 in the rich, fertile areas of the northern Idaho prairie this summer. The practice is being applied to a five-mile stretch of narrow highway between Nezperce and Kamiah.
In widening the roadway, the department would need to buy and then maintain additional right-of-way near the highway. Instead, ITD started discussions with landowners a year and half ago about the possibility of a farmable slopes agreement.
Those agreements will enable ITD to flatten a farmer’s land where it approaches the highway and then return the top layer of rich soil.
In other cases, ITD will allow the landowner to farm the right-of-way area in return for maintaining the strip near the highway shoulders.
Both practices provide a benefit to the landowner and ITD.
“The land is maintained in a productive manner that is good for farmers and the overall economy, instead of being a draw on state resources to maintain it in a non-productive use,” said District 2 Engineer Jim Carpenter.
Flattened backslopes also help to promote greater safety for drivers by minimizing snowdrifts and improving visibility along the highway.
ITD’s District 2 office in Lewiston used a farmable slopes agreement about 5-6 times in the past decade, mostly on realignments, passing lane projects and minor widening.
“We often use this technique on projects where we want to widen shoulders, improve sight distance or have a small curve improvement,” said ITD’s Curtis Arnzen, project development engineer for that region.
ITD also reduced the amount of time it takes for projects to be ready for construction by eliminating the right-of-way process from the project schedule. Purchasing the land routinely takes a year or two, so when that process is eliminated from the schedule, the taxpayer is able to drive on the improved road much sooner.
“In many cases, the landowners don’t want to sell the right-of-way, and they are more than happy to enter into farmable slopes agreement,” said Arnzen. “They are usually quite pleased with the final product as well.”