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 firstname.lastname@example.org