Farmland sustains life around the country, but it’s disappearing as cities grow.
American Farmland Trust (AFT) took a deep dive into the numbers. What the nonprofit organization found is the losses will only continue without action.
American Farmland Trust recently compiled a report titled “Farmlands Under Threat.” The organization’s second farmland-based initiative shows the number of shrinking acres is sobering.
“It’s difficult to absorb,” said Angie Doucette, Midwest farmland protection manager for AFT. “The Midwest has some of the richest and most productive agricultural lands in the nation. Our recent ‘Farmlands Under Threat’ Initiative shows a serious problem with our farmland.”
The continued growth of urban development and what the organization calls low-density residential development are eating away at some of the most productive farmland in the world. That first report showed that between 2001 and 2016, the Midwest lost over 1.1 million acres of farmland across seven states, and the trend is continuing.
To define the terms, Urban and Highly-Developed (UHD) land use include commercial, industrial, and moderate-to-high density residential areas. Low-density residential (LDR) land use includes scattered subdivisions and large-lot housing, which fragments the agricultural land base and limits production.
The Plains states are losing some of the most prime farmland in America, according to AFT.
Kristopher Reynolds is the Midwest regional director with AFT.
“The Farmland Under Threat report took a look at the problem from three policy pathways America can take,” Reynolds said. “Business as Usual, which builds off the previous report as we predict what happens by 2040. Runaway Sprawl, which means land is developed at a less efficient rate than business as usual, in which low-density housing sweeps into the countryside and displaces farmers and ranchers.
“The third is what we call Better Built Cities,” he added. “Policymakers and land-use planners can promote more compact development and reduce sprawl, saving irreplaceable farmland and ranchland from conversion.”
The second farmland initiative is AFT’s first attempt at predicting the future of farm loss. The first report took a look at what America had lost over 15 years. Here’s how much farmland AFT is predicting America will lose by 2040.
In the Business as Usual option, 18.4 million acres will get converted, which is an area about the size of South Carolina. In Runaway Sprawl, the losses could climb to 24.4 million acres, with more than one million acres paved over or compromised every year. However, in the Better Built Cities Plan, policymakers and planners can slash conversion by 55% and save up to 13.5 million acres.
“In Nebraska, for example, with the Business as Usual policy in place, we are projecting that the state will lose almost 104,000 acres of farmland by 2040,” Reynolds said. “Over 80% of that number includes Nebraska’s best farmland. The hardest-hit counties will be the ones around Omaha and Lincoln.”