Surface Pressure: U.S. Losing Farmland at Alarming Rate

Ag Web – by Sara Schafer

From 2001 to 2016, the U.S. lost or compromised 2,000 acres of farmland and ranchland every day. That adds up to 11 million acres of farmland that has been paved over, fragmented or developed, according to research by American Farmland Trust

If that trend continues, and another 18.4 million acres is converted between 2016 and 2040 — an area nearly the size of South Carolina — of that total:

  • 6.2 million acres will be converted to urban and highly developed land uses such as commercial buildings, industrial sites and moderate-to-high-density residential development.
  • 12.2 million acres will be converted to low-density residential areas, which range from large-lot subdivisions to rural areas with a proliferation of scattered houses.

“Nearly half of the conversion will occur on the nation’s most productive, versatile and resilient farmland,” says John Piotti, president of American Farmland Trust.

In its latest report, “Farms Under Threat 2040,” American Farmland Trust says this trend could accelerate further, due to high housing prices in metro areas and new opportunities for remote work. If the pace increases, 24.4 million acres of farmland and ranchland could be converted by 2040. That’s almost 1 million acres of agricultural land every year.

Another factor contributing to the loss of farmland is estate settlements of farmland owners. Around 40% of the nation’s farmland is owned by people over 65, so up to 370 million acres of farmland could change hands in the next 20 years. That increases the possibility the land will be sold for development, according to the research.

To reverse this trend, American Farmland Trust says several economic and policy changes should happen, such as:

  1. Embrace smart-growth principles to improve land-use planning.
  2. Permanently protect agricultural land to secure a supply of land in perpetuity.
  3. Advance smart solar to boost both renewable energy and farm viability.
  4. Support farmland access to create opportunities for a new generation of farmers, particularly historically marginalized producers.

Read the full report: Farms Under Threat 2040: Choosing an Abundant Future

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