Tuesday, May 22, 2018

U.S. lost nearly 31 million acres of farmland to development between 1992 and 2012, according to new report

A new report from the American Farmland Trust, the nation's leading farmland-preservation group, says that America has been losing twice as much farmland as the group thought. That's a problem because In Farms Under Threat: The State of America's Farmland warns that "by 2050, the demands on agriculture to provide sufficient food, fiber and energy are expected to be 50 to 70 percent higher than they are now."

The leading cause of farmland loss is low-density residential development, the report found. Between 1992 and 2012, nearly 31 million acres of agricultural land were lost to development, which is the almost the size of Iowa. Almost 11 million acres of that was prime land for intensive agriculture that would bring high yields with little environmental damage. Less than 17 percent of the total land area of the continental U.S. is suitable for intensive agriculture, so its loss is especially troubling.

Improvements in data and projection models are helping AFT more accurately keep track of the threats to America's agricultural lands and forecast trends. "This first report, Farms Under Threat: The State of America’s Farmland, examines the nation’s irreversible loss of agricultural land to development between 1992 and 2012," the report says. "A subsequent report will analyze state-level data on past farmland conversion and the effectiveness of state-level farmland protection policies. In a third report, Farms Under Threat will assess a range of future threats, forecast potential impacts to 2040 and recommend effective policies that help conserve agricultural land."

AFT plans to offer specific policy suggestions for farmland preservation. In general, counties can preserve farmland by purchasing development rights to farmland, or put farms under a conservation easement. AFT president John Piotti said at a recent press conference that preserving farmland not only helps existing farmers and encourages tourism, but it helps keep land prices down so more young people can get into farming, Al Cross reports for the Midway Messenger in Kentucky. Cross is the director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

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