Exclusive Farm Use (EFU) Defined

EFU / MUA Map

NOTE:  EFU Land Use Resolution.  Oregon State Board of Agriculture from their meeting Dec 16 2009.  To see the Agritourism resolution, click here.

The following information is cited from the Sauvie Island/Multnomah channel Area Plan:

EXCLUSIVE FARM USE ZONING DISTRICT – definition (in map at right EFU land is represented in white)

The Exclusive Farm Use Zoning District protects farm lands in Multnomah County, pursuant to Statewide Planning Program Goal 3 related to Farm Lands. This zoning district is applied to lands with primarily Class I-IV soils (US Dept. of Agriculture ratings which indicate that the soil is suitable for agricultural purposes). The Exclusive Farm Use district applies to lands capable of commercial agricultural production, though not necessarily currently farmed.

In 1993, the Legislature enacted changes to the Exclusive Farm Use district, which were subsequently codified in 1994 by the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission into Oregon Administrative Rules. These changes included a new provision for “high value farmlands,” consisting of lands with Class I and II soils (the highest rated) and certain Class III and IV soils in the Willamette River Valley. Within such high value farmlands, the new rules require a minimum farm income requirement of $80,000 per year in order to justify a new dwelling. Additionally, provisions for exceptions which would allow some dwellings in Exclusive Farm Use areas do not apply to “high value farmlands.”

The $80,000 gross income requirement is intended to ensure that new farm dwellings on high-value farmlands are occupied by full-time farmers, not part-time or “hobby” farmers. This policy direction from the State of Oregon is, in many minds, not appropriate for Sauvie Island. Sauvie Island has many large farm parcels which could be divided into smaller farm parcels where the $80,000 gross income requirement could be met by the production of high value, high impact crops such as berries. Given the fact that Sauvie Island is within commuting distance to the Portland Metropolitan Area, there is a high market demand for rural residences which could be met by the creation of smaller parcels growing high value, high impact crops. The result would be a loss of the current diverse character of Sauvie Island agriculture, to be replaced by a more mono-cultural agricultural character which has more environmental impacts.

All of the Exclusive Farm Use-zoned areas on Sauvie Island are classified as “high value farmlands.” The areas zoned Exclusive Farm Use consist of, according to the 1977 Soil Survey of Multnomah County prepared by the United States Department of Agriculture Soil Conservation Service, five different soil types. These are 1) Burlington Fine Sandy Loam, 2) Sauvie Silt Loam, 3) Sauvie Silt Clay Loam, 4) Moag Silty Clay Loam, and 5) Rafton Silt Loam. The first three of these soil types are rated as Class II for agricultural production, while the last two are rated as Class III. The Oregon Administrative Rules state that “the soil … designation of a specific lot or parcel may be changed if the property owner submits a statement of agreement from the Soil Conservation Service that the soil class, soil rating or other soil designation should be adjusted based on new information.” Additionally, the rules state that a long-time property owner (since 1993) may request that the State Department of Agriculture determine that a lot or parcel designated as high value farmland, “cannot practicably be managed for farm use, by itself or in conjunction with other land, due to extraordinary circumstances inherent in the land or its physical setting that do not apply generally to other land in the vicinity” and thus should be allowed a single-family dwelling. One problem with the data from the 1977 Soil Survey is that it apparently does not take into account a diversity of soil types caused by the stripping of soil for levee construction or placement of dredge material from flood control activities. Additionally, some “high value” soils are poorly drained and thus not as suitable for agriculture.

Therefore, Multnomah County’s ability to allow additional non-farm uses in Sauvie Island’s Exclusive Farm Use designated areas is extremely limited by state law. There are currently 12,300 acres on Sauvie Island zoned Exclusive Farm Use, with approximately 119 existing dwellings. The number of potential new dwellings is impossible to quantify, given the complicated nature of the state law, but is certainly extremely limited in number.

The only alternative to the Exclusive Farm Use designation allowed by Oregon Planning law is called an “exception” to Goal 3 (Agricultural Lands) of the Oregon Statewide Planning Program. In order to qualify as an area which should be excepted from the Exclusive Farm Use classification (and thus rezoned to Multiple Use Agriculture, or Rural Residential), one of two findings must be made:

1.  The land subject to the exception is physically developed to the extent that it is no longer available for exclusive farm use, or

2.  The land subject to the exception is irrevocably committed to non-farm uses because existing adjacent uses and other relevant factors make uses allowed by the applicable goal impracticable.

(A third type of “exception” for a specific land use does not apply in this situation).

The Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission (LCDC) has adopted administrative rules which further clarify the “exceptions” process. The practical result of these rules are that it is very difficult to justify an exception to the Exclusive Farm Use designation. Any proposal from Multnomah County would be closely scrutinized by the LCDC, with potential for reversal. Multnomah County has a process for considering exceptions to Goal 3 (Agricultural Lands) of the Statewide Planning Process through a quasi-judicial plan amendment procedure outlined in the Multnomah County code.

Currently there is some flux in state law regarding exclusive farm use lands. Recent court decisions have called into question the LCDC’s interpretation of 1993 changes in state law passed by the Oregon legislature. These legal questions are beyond the purview of this plan.

It should be noted that full protection of Sauvie Island agricultural lands will impact discussion not only of land use issues, but also of recreation and transportation issues, since increased use of the island by visitors has impacts on agricultural practices. One way of combining agriculture and recreation on the island occurs with the farm stands and U-pick farms on the island, which draw numerous visitors.