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What's happening to our farmland?

Farming on the Edge Report
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What's happening to our farmland?

Each year you have to drive a little farther out to find it. Slowed by traffic, through tangled intersections, past rows of houses that seem to have sprouted from the field, finally, you can see the bountiful farmland. For the past two decades, we've paved over our farmland for roads, houses and malls. Wasteful land use puts America's farmland at risk, especially our most fertile and productive—our most valuable—farmland.

We're needlessly wasting one of the world's most important resources. Less than one-fifth of U.S. land is high quality, and we are losing this finest land to development at an accelerating rate. U.S. agricultural land provides the nation—and the world—with an unparalleled abundance of food. But farmland means much more than food. Well-managed farmland shelters wildlife, supplies scenic open space and helps filter impurities from our air and water. These working lands keep our taxes down and maintain the legacy of our agricultural heritage. It makes no sense to develop our best farmland. Instead, we have a responsibility to protect this most valuable resource for future generations.

  • Every single minute of every day, America loses two acres of farmland.
    From 1992-1997, we converted to developed uses more than six million acres of agricultural land—an area the size of Maryland.
  • We lost farm and ranch land 51 percent faster in the 1990s than in the 1980s.
    The rate of loss for 1992-1997, 1.2 million acres per year, was 51 percent higher than from 1982-1992.
  • We're losing our best land—most fertile and productive—the fastest.
    The rate of conversion of prime land was 30 percent faster, proportionally, than the rate for non-prime rural land from 1992-1997. This results in marginal land, which requires more resources like water, being put into production.
  • Our food is increasingly in the path of development.
    86 percent of U.S. fruits and vegetables, and 63 percent of our dairy products, are produced in urban-influenced areas.
  • Wasteful land use is the problem, not growth itself.
    From 1982-1997, U.S. population grew by 17 percent, while urbanized land grew by 47 percent. Over the past 20 years, the acreage per person for new housing almost doubled; since 1994, 10+ acre housing lots have accounted for 55 percent of the land developed.
  • Every state is losing some of its best farmland.
    Texas leads the nation in high-quality acres lost, followed by Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina and Illinois. And for each of the top 20 states, the problem is getting worse.

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