Author Archives: Bob Wagner

Bob Wagner

About Bob Wagner

About the author: Bob Wagner celebrates his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010. He has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land. He can be reached at bwagner@farmland.org

Stories of Farmland Protection Help Steer Future of Wisconsin’s Farmland

From tales of struggle and triumph passed down through generations of a farm family to accounts of new beginnings for those venturing into agriculture for the first time, the stories shared by farmers are as rich and diverse as the fields they sow. These stories mark the history of a farm family and, as was recently witnessed in Green Bay, Wisconsin, can also help chart the path for their future.

In early June, members of Wisconsin’s agricultural and conservation communities lent their stories to the Board of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, a policy-making body within the state’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. The department was tasked in 2011 through the state budget appropriations process to review and evaluate its investment in the fledgling Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) program. Through the PACE program, landowners can apply for state funding to help purchase the development rights of their working lands and help protect it from non-agricultural development. The board meeting in Green Bay was the latest in the fight for continued PACE support.

There is no off-season in agriculture and the spring and summer months can be particularly demanding. Nevertheless, speakers came from farms across the state, each leaving much work waiting for them back home, to share their stories and to make the case for PACE. Several farmers detailed the economic development benefits tied to PACE funding. They identified incentives to buy more land, expand operations and provide opportunities for young family members: When they reinvested in agriculture, their employees and local communities also benefited.

As young farmers Christa Behnke, Zoey Brooks and Kyle Zwieg explained, the PACE easements on their families’ properties have provided them certainty for the future and the opportunity to carry on the family business. Zwieg added that he and a brother would probably be working off the farm had it not been for their farm’s PACE easement.

The power of these farmers’ voices—just a sliver of the approximately 37,000 farm operators across the state—illuminated the numerous benefits of PACE. As a result of their efforts, the board took decisive action. After reviewing the recently released PACE report in the afternoon, the board recommended to the Wisconsin Legislature that the PACE program be continued and a source of funding be identified. The motion passed unanimously.

This good news is the latest in American Farmland Trust’s ongoing work to help protect Wisconsin’s critical farmland. Along with our partner, Gathering Waters Conservancy, we have been on the ground in Wisconsin since 2008, working to secure essential policies and programs through the Campaign for Wisconsin’s Farm and Forest Lands. Together, we organized and coordinated a sizeable and influential coalition in support of creating two new farmland protection and farm viability programs — PACE and the Agricultural Enterprise Area Program — that were adopted and funded by the state Legislature in 2009.

However, then newly anointed Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker targeted the PACE program for elimination in his inaugural budget package in early 2011. Through the “Friends of Farmland Protection” campaign, American Farmland Trust and Gathering Waters Conservancy coordinated key supporters from the farm, local government, land trust and planning communities to reach out to lawmakers, the governor and other key leaders to voice strong grassroots support for farmland protection in Wisconsin. In the end, the Legislature listened to the stories shared about the importance of PACE, removing the proposal that would have eliminated the PACE program and restoring funds for the first round of approved applications.

Altogether, the land protection and conservation involvement of American Farmland Trust and our partners in Wisconsin have made progress while overcoming significant hurdles since 2008. The impact has been the designation of 340,000 acres in 17 Agricultural Enterprise Areas and 75 applications covering more than 20,000 acres to the PACE program. But our work is far from complete. Through collective action and shared stories, we continue to help steer efforts to protect Wisconsin’s farmland for generations to come.


About the author: One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

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The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program: A Partnership for Saving the Land

Since 1996, the backbone of federal support for farmland protection has rested in the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, or FRPP. By bridging federal funds with state, local and private dollars to help these government and private partners protect more than 810,000 acres of rich, agricultural lands.

Development encroaching on farmlandEfforts around the country to protect farmland reflect a deep public commitment to agriculture, to today’s farmers, and to sustaining the land base for future generations of farmers. Supporting these efforts is critical. The USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service reports that, from 1982 to 2007, more than 23 million acres of agricultural land—an area the size of the state of Indiana—was permanently converted to non-agricultural development. The continued loss of productive farmland to development threatens the viability and future of local agricultural industries, communities and economies across the nation. It is critical that the federal government continue to be an important ally and partner in efforts to reverse these trends.

As Congress debates the next farm bill, the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, along with many important conservation programs, will be reviewed and re-assessed. Congress should note that the program has proven to be a cost-effective contributor to locally-driven strategies to protect farmland and support farmers and their communities. Thanks to the local partnership structure, 66 percent of the funding for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program projects has come from non-federal sources, while administrative costs have also not fallen on federal funding sources.

In order for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program to continue to be an effective partner in such local efforts, it is essential that it retains key core components. The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program should:

  • Use program funds only for permanent agricultural conservation easements;
  • Continue to be aimed at protecting working farmland for active agricultural production; and
  • Be based on recognizing state and local governments and private land trusts as vital partners and providing matching funds to these partners to purchase agricultural conservation easements.

In addition to these key program elements, an effective Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program—one that will ensure a productive and healthy future for American agriculture—will require adequate funding. The 2012 Farm Bill comes at a time of high-profile congressional battles over the federal budget. In fact, last fall’s attempt to address the deficit through the Joint Select Committee forced approximately $23 billion in farm program cuts over 10 years, with more than $6 billion coming from conservation programs. The Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program received disproportionate cuts—nearly 30 percent—when other conservation programs saw 10 to 20 percent reductions. All of this, at a time when demand for farmland protection is on the rise, including a steady backlog of existing funding requests and growing interest from the western ranching community.

As the 2012 Farm Bill negotiations move forward, Congress needs to have a clear picture of the critical need to protect the nation’s farmland. You can help American Farmland Trust share this message by contacting your member of Congress.  Let them know that the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program must not see unfair cuts in the farm bill.


About the author: One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

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A Time to Protect the Land: New Paths to Preservation

This is the second in a series of five stories outlining American Farmland Trust’s vision for the 2012 Farm Bill. For more information on our recommendations and positions, please visit www.farmbillfacts.org.


More than 30 years ago, American Farmland Trust was founded by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development. Since then, we have worked as a national leader on the issue, helping to drive farmland protection efforts  around the country with countless state and local partners. However, even as this movement has spread,  so have the forces of farmland destruction.

The 2012 Farm Bill presents an opportunity to set the course for the next 30 years. With increasing demands on U.S. agriculture to produce food, fiber, energy and eco-services, the need to protect the nation’s irreplaceable farmland resources is more critical than ever. At the same time, budget constraints will challenge the role of the federal government in protecting farmland in the future.

Working Lands Easement Programs
Land Retirement Programs

Currently, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) has jurisdiction over five easement programs: two focused on working agricultural lands and the remainder on retiring environmentally sensitive land and taking it out of production. The number of similar programs has caused confusion in farm country and concern in the nation’s capital, eliciting calls for consolidation. American Farmland Trust agrees. If done right, consolidation provides an opportunity to create more focused and results-oriented easement programs while maintaining the critical elements that make these programs successful.

A Common Purpose, Permanence, and Structure

The Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program and Grassland Reserve Program share common objectives: keep agricultural land in production and contribute to local economies. Combining them under a Working Lands Easement Program will create a stronger program without sacrificing effectiveness. The last farm bill already brought the two programs closer together, making Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program more range land friendly and instituting the Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program model of local partnerships as an option in Grassland Reserve Program, so that the program no longer operates solely through USDA. That way federal funding is leveraged with other funds through local partners to get a bigger bang for the buck. In fact, through 2010, Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program projects have matched more than $1.80 in non-federal funds for every federal dollar invested.

New England farm in fogThe programs that take environmentally fragile land out of production—Wetlands Reserve Program, Emergency Watershed Program and Healthy Forests Reserve Program—also can be merged. A consolidated Land Retirement and Restoration Program would continue to offer protection for previously farmed wetlands; forest lands that support biodiversity and critical wildlife habitat; and threatened farmed floodplains. By remaining separate from the Working Lands Easement Program, this new program would be able to maintain the restrictive easement terms that are crucial when retiring fragile land but would cripple efforts to protect working lands.

Additionally, we must continue to strengthen the farm and ranch land protection movement through innovative new programs. We propose instituting a new Debt for Working Lands Easement program, a restructuring option for farm-owner loans through Farm Service Agency and secured by real estate. This program would retire debt on agriculturally productive land in return for permanent conservation easements, protecting the land and allowing it to continue being used for agricultural production. This tool would both further farmland protection and provide an option to help farmers and ranchers eliminate debt and remain in farming.

The threats to America’s farm and food resources are real. Through farm and ranch land conservation on both working and retired land, we can protect the land base we need to grow food while keeping the land vibrant and healthy into the future. The 2012 Farm Bill is instrumental in making land conservation more effective. American Farmland Trust’s vision of new programs and tools—the Working Lands Easement Program, the Land Retirement and Restoration Program and Debt for Working Lands Easement—can strengthen the farm and ranch land protection movement and truly help farmers, ranchers and communities meet their conservation needs.


About the author: One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

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In the Wake of Irene: What Natural Disasters Teach Us About Farmland Protection

By definition, a natural disaster is a force of nature that has a significant impact on a human population. The tremendous damage to farms and farm products that have resulted from recent storms Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee are, in this sense, natural disasters of large proportions. In New York State alone, Governor Andrew Cuomo estimates more than $45 million in agricultural damages from Irene.

The toll of farm and food dollars lost will continue to add up over the coming months. However, what is immediately clear from the recent flooding is the role human choices  have had in affecting  the scale of a natural disasters as our farmland has turned over to development.

Farmland is of value to local populations beyond the food and fiber it provides. It helps to absorb and filter water, an indispensable characteristic in mitigating the impact of flooding and other results of a natural disaster. Unfortunately, these valuable benefits are often not missed until they are gone and – as is the case with Irene – lost attributes with disastrous consequences. The rainfall and flooding from Irene was unprecedented in much of the Northeast. What appears an anomaly for the region may be the result of our changing landscape.

The farms and forests that were once located upstream from populated areas have been and are continuing to be turned over to development. This conversion of farmland that has occurred throughout the United States—more than 23 million acres nationwide between 1982 and 2007—takes agricultural land away from its vital role in water control.

In fact, the top five states that have developed the largest percentage of their agricultural land are among the states located in the path of Irene – New Jersey (26.8 percent), Rhode Island (22.5 percent), Massachusetts (18.1 percent), Delaware (14.3 percent), and New Hampshire (13.2 percent). What results, as Irene and Tropical Storm Lee have so dramatically highlighted, is the impact of water and flood control once the natural “sponge” of farm and forestlands has been paved over.

Farmland also provides a cost-effective water management infrastructure. With a nation increasingly attuned to belt-tightening, it is more essential than ever that the value of farmland for controlling water is fully recognized.

Rain and flood water drenched farm fields and strong winds flattened crops throughout the path of Irene. Farms along the East Coast have major damage, losing crops because of water, having crops covered by new silt, and fields being flooded by contaminated water. Throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, damage to crops will mean greater uncertainty as farmers move into the harvest season. What is in the water that has submerged farm fields is also of concern. Foods that have survived once flood waters receded have been deemed unsafe for human consumption by the FDA.

We would be remiss to let an eye-opening experience presented by Irene to pass by without considering an improved vision for the future. Through programs and a supportive marketplace, we must incorporate the value that farmers provide, not just in feeding the population but in quelling a natural disaster.

Fortunately, many of the states recently affected by Irene and Lee have already recognized the value of farmland protection, including Delaware, Maryland, and Vermont that have each saved more than one acre for each acre of agricultural land developed. Most recently, New Jersey’s Governor Christie approved legislation providing $90.6 million in grant funding for farmland protection efforts in the state. We must continue to think about what happens next, in both regional and national contexts, to keep farmland protected and our farms and homes safer from the coming storms.


About the author: One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

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Citizens Make the Difference in Sustaining Wisconsin’s Farmland Protection Program

In June 2009, the Wisconsin State Legislature adopted the Working Lands Initiative with the objective of protecting farm and forest lands in the state. Among the landmark efforts introduced by the Working Lands Initiative were the Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) and Agricultural Enterprise Area programs. American Farmland Trust and Gathering Waters Alliance were the driving forces behind the initiative and continue to work together to support conservation programs while providing resources to support farmland protection.

Farmland protection leaders in Waupaca County gather at Bob and Penny Leder's (left) farm in 2010. Waupaca County farmers were among the first successful PACE applicants in Wisconsin.

Just two years ago, farming and farmland protection advocates in Wisconsin were riding high when the legislature created a statewide Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (PACE) and the budget allocated $12 million to provide state grants to PACE projects over the next two years. Through the PACE program, the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection provides funding to local governments and non-profit organizations for the purchase of easements from landowners.

The new tools were certainly necessary. Wisconsin is near the top of the list of states that have lost prime agricultural land to development pressure, with more than 280,000 acres lost between 1982 and 2007 alone. Agriculture is crucial to the state’s economy, and well-managed agricultural areas provide an array of environmental benefits. Fast-forward to this past January. Governor Scott Walker’s inaugural budget package not only put on hold all previously promised funds for PACE but also called for eliminating the program entirely. Wisconsin is near

This threat to the state’s fledgling PACE program caused a stir among a wide, bipartisan cross-section of farmers, conservationists, farm advocates and community activists. Citizens from across the state spoke up in support of keeping a strong farmland protection program intact. Dozens of individual farmers and other citizen advocates of farmland protection were joined by counties and towns, land trusts, farm groups and other citizen-based organizations in these efforts. Citizens reached out to lawmakers, the governor and other key leaders to voice strong grassroots support for farmland protection in Wisconsin.  In particular, Joint Committee on Finance field hearings on the budget were overwhelmed by the outpouring of support for farmland protection and the PACE program in Wisconsin.

And indeed the legislature listened, removing the proposal that would have eliminated the PACE program and restoring funds for the 16 initial PACE applications that had received careful review and approval for funding. Other critical components of the state’s farmland protection program have also been maintained in the budget. Counties are required to update their farmland protection plans, and grant money is available to assist them with their plan updates. The budget also provides $27 million in farmland protection tax credits to Wisconsin farmers when they meet their conservation responsibilities.

With Governor Walker’s signing of the budget over the last weekend in June, farmland protection efforts and PACE have a new lease on life in Wisconsin. This is due in no small measure to the earnest and genuine voices of citizens speaking out in support of farmers, farming and the protection of valuable, irreplaceable farmland.



About the authors:

One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

Bill Berry is a writer and communications specialist who works in the areas of private-land conservation and agriculture.  A consultant to American Farmland Trust, he currently oversees the Working Lands Initiative website. He lives in Stevens Point, Wisconsin.

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A Gift of Farmland Becomes a Legacy of Love

A Legacy of Love

The Love Farm was featured in the 1996 Spring Issue of American Farmland.

In 1995, Owen and Ellen Love donated their 660-acre farm outside Climax, Michigan to American Farmland Trust. The Loves  believed deeply in protecting their valuable farmland for future generations and wished to have their decision to protect their farm provide an example for others and eventually serve as a catalyst for other farmland protection initiatives. Speaking of her husband’s commitment to their cause, Ellen Love remarked around the time of their gift, “You can’t always talk folks out of selling good farmland to developers. He wanted to show people here in Michigan what can be done to save farms. Make a believer out of ‘em.”

After both Owen and Ellen passed on, we stewarded the farm, renting it to the Loves long-time farm tenant. In 2010, the farm was sold, subject to a conservation easement, to two young brothers in the area who will continue to operate the farm for grain production. In accordance with the Loves’ wishes,  the Owen and Ellen Love Family Farmland Protection Fund was established to be used for assisting in the permanent protection of other farmland in Michigan. The Fund secures the legacy of Owen and Ellen Love and their vision of providing an example and the financial wherewithal for others to protect valuable farmland.

Available to Michigan communities and land trusts, the Fund will offer loans to bridge a time gap between an opportunity to protect farmland and the availability of other public or private funding to purchase land in fee or an agricultural conservation easement.

“We are proud our parents chose to preserve the Love family farm for agricultural use, and also provide the means for others to save agricultural land,” say Bob Love and Edith Pestrue, the Love’s children. “The Owen and Ellen Love Family Farmland Protection Fund will play an essential role in supporting projects that protect the productive use of agricultural land in the State of Michigan.”

American Farmland Trust has worked with other similarly motivated landowners around the country on legacy gifts to fulfill their desires and commitments to protect farm and ranch lands for future productive use and to facilitate farmland protection initiatives. If you are interested in discussing such opportunities, please contact Jen Small at 518-581-0078 (Ext. 301).


About the author: One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

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Tax Package Will Promote the Protection of Working Farms and Ranches

American Farmland Trust and other national conservation organizations heralded the recent signing by President Obama of the omnibus tax package and its provision to extend the enhanced conservation easement tax deduction for the 2010 and 2011 tax years. Originally included in the 2006 Pension Protection Act, the enhanced conservation easement tax deduction allows qualified farmers and ranchers* to deduct the value of a conservation easement contribution up to 100 percent of their Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and expands the period landowners may carry-forward any unused value of a deduction up to 16 years. The legislation greatly increases the potential use of this option to protect our nation’s working agricultural lands.

Conservation easements have been used voluntarily by landowners to protect agricultural lands from development and fragmentation for close to 30 years. The donation or sale of conservation easements has enabled farm families to protect their land for future generations while receiving tax benefits or cash based on the land’s full market value. The donation of conservation easements by landowners has been influenced by IRS rules. However, until the 2006 Pension Protection Act established the enhanced conservation easement tax deduction, these rules provided minimal incentives for farmers and ranchers with a large percentage of their equity tied up in their land. The former IRS rules limited the carry-forward period over which a donor could claim a deduction to six years and capped the annual deduction at 30 percent of AGI.

A simple example can illustrate the power of the new rules in enticing full-time farm and ranch families to consider donating a conservation easement on their productive agricultural land or accepting less than the full purchase price when selling a conservation easement to a publicly funded Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) program. Consider that a conservation easement donation valued at $450,000 and made in 2010 or 2011 by a qualified farmer with an annual AGI of $50,000 will yield the full value of the donation in federal income tax deductions in nine years (the value of the gift up to 100 percent of AGI each year for 16 years or until the gift value is used up: $50,000 X 9 = $450,000). Under the old rules, that same gift would have yielded only $90,000 in federal income tax deductions to the farmer (the value of the gift up to 30 percent of AGI each year for six years or until the gift value is used up: $15,000 X 6 = $90,000).

By creating an opportunity to deduct a large percentage, if not the full amount, of the value of a donated conservation easement, the expanded federal conservation tax deduction provides farmers and ranchers with a powerful business and estate planning tool. This new tax treatment also makes the bargain sale of a conservation easement in a PACE transaction worthy of much more serious consideration by agricultural land owners.

By increasing the likelihood that landowners will donate or accept a discounted price for conservation easements, the federal tax incentive provides tremendous leverage for public farm and ranch land protection funding, stretching those dollars at a time when budgets at all levels of government are stressed to the limit.

* Qualified farmers and ranchers are those who earn more than 50 percent of their gross income from the business of farming in the taxable year in which the conservation easement is donated. Land subject to the conservation easement must be available for agriculture.


About the author: One of the nation’s leading experts in Farmland Protection, Bob Wagner celebrated his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010 and has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land.

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Don’t Forget Farmland is a Part of America’s Great Outdoors

Recently, President Obama attended the White House Conference on America’s Great Outdoors to speak and sign a memorandum that sets a 21st century conservation agenda to bridge public and private efforts to conserve outdoor spaces (including farmland) and connect Americans with the outdoors.

While the efforts of farmers and the importance of farmland conservation were mentioned by the President, I want to stress how vital farmland is to any strategy to protect the outdoors.

Why? Because farmers and ranchers are stewards of almost half the land in America. Moreover, farms produce more than food, fiber and renewable fuels. Increasingly we’re pressing farm and ranch land into service to also address climate change, air and water pollution and energy concerns.

The President also noted that “conservation is not contrary to economic growth,” but an integral part of it, and he’s right. Environmental markets mean new opportunities for American agriculture.  We no longer measure the production from our nation’s farms and ranches by just bushels, bales, pecks, or animal units ―but now also miles per gallon, carbon offsets, water quality credits and bird nesting sites.

However, if we’re going to have healthy farms, healthy food and a healthy environment, we have to remember that farm and ranchland is the critical component. We can no longer assume that increased agricultural productivity per acre will make up for the continued loss and fragmentation of our farmland, or offset the increasing demand on agricultural lands to provide these types of environmental benefits in addition to the basics of food and fiber.

Some of the broad goals of the America’s Great Outdoors initiative include building on local and state and private priorities for the conservation of land, water, wildlife and other resources; and determining how the federal government can best advance those priorities through public private partnerships and locally supported conservation strategies.

There is much to gain if we focus on stemming the loss of America’s farm and ranchland. Despite efforts to protect agricultural land, over 23 million acres has been lost since 1982.  We need to clarify and understand the multiple demands on, and the benefits provided by well-managed agricultural lands, and determine our country’s need for agricultural land as a national security asset in a sustainable green economy for food, environmental services, wildlife, energy and open space.

The Departments of Agriculture and Interior are accepting ideas to better support modern-day land and water conservation efforts happening in communities across the country.  We hope you’ll submit a comment expressing the importance of our farm and ranch lands in achieving any national conservation goals.

We can encourage the federal government to be an active partner and contributor to the efforts of private landowners, states and communities to secure and manage this resource base for future generations. At American Farmland Trust I know we’re ready to work with the administration and stakeholders, and I hope you’ll join in this effort, too.

About the author: Bob Wagner celebrates his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010.  He has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land. He can be reached at bwagner@farmland.org

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30 Years and Counting…

A recent article in the Omaha World Herald, “Food Demand Drives Farmland Prices,” brings into focus the fragility of what to many is our nation’s limitless agricultural land base.  In the article, J.B.Penn, chief economist for farm equipment maker Deere & Co., notes with the world population expected to grow by 50 percent by 2050, the ability of the world’s agricultural lands to produce is about to be overtaken by the need for more food.  He points out that, “Most of the good land in the world today is already under cultivation” and that poorer-quality land will require “costly and controversial” measures, such as increased irrigation, to produce more crops.

In the United States our agricultural land base is not only under pressure to produce food for our own internal needs and those of the growing world population, but also for energy products and increasingly for environmental goods and services.  Yet at the same time, unwise development continues to permanently destroy farmland at an alarming rate — 4,080,300 acres from 2002 to 2007, an area nearly the size of Massachusetts, as reported by the recently released USDA National Resources Inventory (NRI).  And to Mr. Penn’s point about the risks of enlisting poorer-quality soils into meeting future world food needs: the NRI reports that during this same period prime farmland in the U.S. (meaning land with the best soils to produce food and fiber), declined by over two and a quarter million acres.

It has been 30 years since the United States last conducted a comprehensive analysis of its agricultural land base – the National Agricultural Lands Study.

The prospects of a world population increasing by 50%  in just forty years, the realities highlighted by Mr. Penn and the stunning farmland loss numbers produced by USDA, all point to the need for us to once again take stock of the status of our precious, valuable and irreplaceable agricultural lands.

Only a new “National Agricultural Lands Study” – with the commitment of the highest levels of the federal government – can clarify the multiple demands on and the benefits provided by well-managed agricultural lands and determine the country’s need for agricultural land as a national security asset in a sustainable green economy.

With this study, we can truly lay out the groundwork for a robust, comprehensive strategy to secure this resource base for future generations.

About the author: Bob Wagner celebrates his 25th year at American Farmland Trust in 2010.  He has worked in the field of farmland protection since 1981. In his current position, Wagner helps states and local communities nationwide build support for and create policies to protect agricultural land. He can be reached at bwagner@farmland.org

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