We appreciate news editor Chris Koger’s perspective (“American Farmland Trust’s message misses the mark”), but we believe anyone in the U.S. who cares about the long-term health of the produce sector should be concerned with two issues: the loss of farm and ranch land and the increasing emphasis on healthy diets.
We recently issued a press release highlighting that the U.S. is short 13 million acres of fruit and vegetable production for consumers to meet the 2005 Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA’s) for dietary consumption.
That is not American Farmland Trust’s calculation, but rather comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
In addition, AFT has used USDA data to calculate that 78% of our nation’s melon and vegetable production (by value) occurs in urban influenced counties, the same counties where farmland is under the greatest threat of conversion out of agriculture or development. Both of these figures are fact, not conjecture.
Certainly, Chris is correct that demand drives the planting decisions of growers, and there is a delicate balance between supply and demand. But we note that attempts to change the diets of consumers to include more fruits and vegetables are not in short supply.
Witness the leadership of First Lady Michelle Obama and the USDA in bringing attention to healthier diets and school lunches, alongside the produce industries’ own promotions to increase consumption.
Note, too, the increase in the number of farmers markets to 6,132, up 16% in the last year. And demand for fresh produce in this type of marketplace is outstripping supply. Farmers market managers across the country tell us that they need more vendors, not less.
To AFT, these are important trends which signal the dawn of new opportunities — if agriculture can seize them.
American producers will be able to seize these opportunities only if we can continue to overcome the concurrent obstacles inherent in any supply chain- whether policy, regulatory, demand fluctuation, transportation or environmental conditions, to name just a few.
We can’t afford to miss the chance to meet growing demand that some of our most threatened land is best suited to produce crops on — because we can’t miss opportunities to keep our farms economically viable.
It’s true, new varieties and production practices and other technologies are allowing specialty crop growers to produce more on less acreage, but at AFT we also follow closely the loss and conversion of farmland because it is the most critical input to any producer in the world.
Therefore, we believe the loss of farmland is a critical challenge to the demand opportunity that appears to be developing — one that needs to be addressed.
The most recent National Resources Inventory indicates that we have lost more than 23 million acres of active agricultural land since 1982.
More troubling? We’ve lost more than 13 million acres of prime farmland during that same time. Every state has lost prime farmland. And some of the states known for their fruit and vegetable production — like California, Texas and Georgia — appear on the top-five lists of states that either lost the greatest number of acres or lost the greatest percentage of prime farmland.
Will every citizen eat the recommended diet? Probably not. Are we going to be the world’s No. 1 producer of pineapples? Not likely. Has our total production of specialty crops fallen yet? No.
But if this sector is going to produce the majority of the needed fruits and vegetables here in the U.S. now, or in the future, we need to pay attention to the facts and address the issue of farmland loss.
We invite readers to learn more about the issue, and to become engaged with us in the solutions for stemming the tide of farmland loss.
This piece originally ran in The Packer, under the title Industry, Public Health Require Long-Term View.
About the Author: Jon Scholl is President of American Farmland Trust. Prior to AFT, he served as Counselor to the Administrator for Agriculture Policy at the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Jon and his family operate a corn and soybean farm in McLean County, Illinois.