“Once again we see a nationwide decline in land in farms,” says Jon Scholl, President of American Farmland Trust. “While this does not automatically mean the land has been converted to developed uses, it does mean the agricultural land is no longer in production. This comes at a time when there is much discussion about the importance of agriculture and agricultural land in meeting some of the biggest food, fiber, energy and ecosystem challenges our nation faces.”

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the land in farms dropped from 938,279,056 to 922,095,840 acres. That's a drop of 16.2 million acres.

“A decline of land in farms serves as a warning sign,” adds Bob Wagner, AFT’s senior director, farmland protection programs. “A decrease can urge communities and states to consider policies and programs that support the viability of agriculture. When farming is not economically sustainable, we know that farmers leave agriculture and are much more likely to sell their land.”

But the census numbers do not measure farmland conversion. USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service formerly provided reliable farmland conversion data through the National Resources Inventory at the national and state levels, but the agency has not had adequate resources to support this effort for several years. “AFT would like to see the NRI revived, and the development of state-level tracking systems so communities can understand what’s happening to agricultural land, set farmland protection goals and measure their progress.” “The National Resources Inventory has withered on the vine,” says Wagner.

“Based on census data, farmers and ranchers control 41 percent of the land area in the United States, which means they are in unique positions to address some of the nation’s most pressing environmental issues,” adds Scholl.  

The Census of Agriculture is typically recorded every five years by the National Agricultural Statistics Service and provides a snapshot of current crop and livestock production, land use and ownership and value of agricultural products sold at the national, state and county level. For more information on farmland conversion and other  farmland protection and stewardship issues, contact the Farmland Information Center at (800) 370-4879 extension #13. The Farmland Information Center is a clearinghouse for information and is a public/private partnership between American Farmland Trust and USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service. Its’ resources are free to the public.

Source: American Farmland Trust