HILLSBORO, Ore. (AP) _ From his farm northwest of Hillsboro, Dave Vanasche can see only about a half dozen houses scattered in the distance.
But he can see the seeds of urban sprawl.
Bordering his farm is a row of trees that marks the boundary of land an advisory committee has proposed as "urban reserve."
Vanasche and several of his neighbors worry that if the proposal is adopted, Washington County farmers will lose their way of life.
"We've already lost half our farmland since the 1960s," Vanasche said. "Now the county wants to convert another 33,000 acres to urban use."
The result, he said, will be the end of farming in the county.
"We can't survive on what's left. It's not a doable situation," he said.
Advisory committees in the three Portland metro counties are preparing final recommendations for reserving land for rural and urban uses for the next 40 to 50 years.
Under a law enacted by the 2007 Legislature, the counties will make recommendations to a regional committee formed by the Metro Council.
Ultimately, the Metro Council in concert with the counties will decide what land is reserved for urban and rural uses.
If no agreement is reached, the existing system, which generally consists of governments expanding their urban growth boundaries every five years, stays in place.
Among the proposals on the table, Clackamas County is considering designating about 12,000 acres urban reserve. Multnomah County is looking at designating less than 200 acres for urban reserve.
In Washington County, where farm, high-technology and housing interests all stake claims to a shrinking base of open land, the county's advisory committee has proposed 80 percent of the land bordering the current urban growth boundary _ 33,800 acres _ be set aside for urban reserves.
Vanasche, who farms grass seed, wheat and other crops in rural Washington County, has been involved in the reserves discussion since it began in early 2008. He and farmer Larry Duyck serve on a 16-member advisory committee developing the county's proposal.
The two get one vote.
The rest of the committee includes elected officials from the 11 cities in Washington County, and representatives of special districts, such as Tualatin Valley Fire and Rescue.
The discrepancy between farm and urban interests puts the farm voice at a disadvantage, Vanasche said.
"We're outnumbered," he said. "When we vote, it's usually 15-1."
In the proposal the county offered in August, 108,800 acres are designated rural reserve.
Designating land rural reserve sets it aside for farm, forest or wilderness use for 40 to 50 years.
The advisory committee also proposed that 22,800 acres remain undesignated _ a proposal that also concerns farm interests.
"Leaving it undesignated, that's just like calling it urban," Duyck said.
"To me," said Oregon Department of Agriculture's Jim Johnson, "they're giving themselves a buffer in case they want to designate more land urban reserve before the planning period is over."
Designating land urban reserve doesn't automatically bring land into a city's urban growth boundary, said Steven Kelley, senior planner for Washington County. The designation means simply that when a need exists for more residential or industrial land, urban reserves will be the first land considered.
Kelley said land in urban reserves likely will stay in farming for many years.
But Edmund Duyck, who farms just outside the urban growth boundary of Cornelius in Washington County, said the urban reserve designation will severely limit farm activity.
Farmers will hesitate to invest in land designated urban reserve, he said.
"It's like farming a piece of ground on a year-to-year lease," he said. "You're not going to put any money into it when you don't know whether you're going to have a harvest next year."
Vanasche believes the county can't afford to lose any more farm acreage. Reports from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and a farm supply company back his contention.
In a report to the county's advisory committee, Johnson, ODA's land-use and water planning coordinator, said: "The critical mass needed to support the agricultural service industry in Washington County is currently present, but under threat."
Later, after viewing the county's proposal, Johnson said: "This proposal does not protect the viability or vitality of the county's agricultural land base."
Bill Hubbell, general manager of the farm-supply store Wilco Winfield, wrote in a report to the county: "We are concerned that any further loss of agricultural lands will be to the detriment of our business and agricultural services."
Kelley said the county has taken into account farmer concerns and is trying to accommodate their desires. But, he said, the county also needs to meet the needs of an expanding population.
Over the last 20 years, he said, Washington County's population has grown by an average of more than 1,000 people per month. By 2030, 1 million more people are projected to move to Washington, Clackamas and Multnomah counties.
Kelley couldn't answer whether the county's proposal provides farmers with enough land to maintain infrastructure. But, he said: "The farming community has some options."
Timber land to the west could be used for growing crops, he said.
"They can cut some trees down and plant crops," he said.
"There are needs on the urban side, and there are needs on the rural side," he said.
"If my kids and grandkids can afford to live in Washington County in the future, there has to be a place to build houses," he said.
In advisory committee meetings, Vanasche and Duyck said they were willing to cede 5,000 acres of prime farmland for urbanization.
Going beyond that will all but end farming in Washington County, Vanasche said.
"Taking 33,000 acres of urban reserve, plus 22,000 acres of undesignated land out of 107,000 acres of good flat farmland in the county, that doesn't leave much," Vanasche said.
"If you're going to take that amount of acreage, take the whole thing."