Vanishing Farmland

By Susan Littlefield

Our country is so vast that it's easy to think we don't have to worry as housing developments and highways spring up to cover the land. But figures released by the American Farmland Trust regarding the National Resources Inventory are sobering. The Inventory is a survey of the nation's non-federal lands conducted by the USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service in cooperation with Iowa State University to document conditions and trends in natural resources, including loss of agricultural land to development.

It found that, in the period from 1982 to 2007, more than 23 million acres of agricultural land, an area equivalent in size to the state of Indiana, was lost to development. It also found that more than one out of every three acres of currently developed land was built on in that 25 year period. To make matters worse, prime agricultural land, those areas most suited to growing crops and the least vulnerable to erosion, were developed at a disproportionately higher rate -- 44% more -- than non-prime agricultural acreage. The states with the most total acreage lost were Texas, California, Florida, Arizona, and North Carolina. Those with the biggest losses as a percentage of their agricultural land were New Jersey, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Delaware, and New Hampshire.

On the bright side, the rate of loss of farmland slowed in the last five years of the survey period, compared to previous years, a drop that is attributed in part to the trend toward building single family homes on smaller lots.

The Farmland Information Center is a partnership between the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and American Farmland Trust that serves as a clearinghouse for information about farmland protection and stewardship. For information on ways to help protect farmland in your state and community, including a list of resources by state, visit its Web site at: Farmland Information Center .

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