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Farms Under Threat: The State of America’s Farmland Report Sounds a Stark Warning

Are we conserving enough farmland to protect our legacy and ensure food security for future generations?

American Farmland Trust (AFT), in collaboration with Conservation Science Partners, has launched a multiyear initiative, Farms Under Threat: The State of America’s Farmland, that will address that question. The goal is to document the threats and offer policy solutions to ensure the long-term protection and conservation of agricultural land in the United States to sustain an expanding population and protect biodiversity. The findings will be released in three separate reports.

“We are documenting both past conversion and projecting the impacts of multiple threats our remaining farmland will face out to 2040 unless we take action now,” says John Piotti, president, American Farmland Trust.

The first report examines the nation’s irreversible loss of agricultural land to development between 1992 and 2012. Released in early May 2018, it found that ag land lost to development during those years, which totaled nearly 31 million acres, is nearly double the National Resource Inventory estimates for that same time period. 

The analyses also show there is a limited supply of land best suited to intensive food and crop production. 

“Between 1992 and 2012, we lost some of our best agricultural land to development,” says Piotti. 

By 2012, the premium ground dropped to less than 17% of the total land area in the U.S.

“The resulting shifts to more marginal land have implications for domestic food security and resiliency, which we will explore more fully in future reports,” he adds.

Land was assigned a PVR value based on its productivity, versatility, and resiliency to support intensive food and crop production. This value helps quantify the quality of the ag land converted by development. 

In less than one generation, which is considered to be 25.5 years, the U.S. irrevocably developed nearly 11 million acres of its best ag land. That is roughly equal to losing California’s Central Valley, which is one of the most productive areas in the U.S.

Other key findings included:

• Overall, development disproportionately occurred on ag land. According to the report, more than 70% of urban development and 62% of all development took place on ag land. 

• Urban development favored cropland (41%); low-density residential development, which is the building of houses on 1- to 20-acre lots, posed an equal threat to cropland and pasture (34.5%).

A second report will analyze state level data on past farmland conversion and the effectiveness of state level farmland protection policies. The final Farms Under Threat report will assess a range of future threats, forecast potential impacts to 2040, and recommend policies to help conserve ag land.

“Farmland is critical infrastructure, akin to roads and bridges,” explains Piotti. “Without farms, there’s not only no food, but there’s no future. Farmland feeds us, sustains our economy and helps restore our planet. Action is needed now because lost farmland is irretrievable. Farmers are aging and the land they steward must be passed on to the next generation. If the trends of the last two decades continue over the next two decades, America will face a future with too few farms.”

To learn more about American Farmland Trust and the Farms Under Threat project, visit farmland.org

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