Tag Archives: urban sprawl

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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Farmland and Food: Re-Connected

There was a time when talking about the actual growing of food  as a reason to protect farmland from sprawling development garnered little attention.  To be sure it was always on the list, but values such as wildlife habitat, scenic views, open space and cultural heritage often energized support for protecting farmland much more than any interest in food production.  Chalk it up to the disconnect between what we eat and where it comes from – or perhaps living in a land of plenty, where on average we pay the lowest percentage of family income on food in the world.  Whatever the reason, food production often played second fiddle to the other benefits provided by farm and ranch land.

But things have certainly changed in recent years.  Top-of-mind issues like reducing carbon footprints, hedging against high gasoline prices and promoting healthy food choices among others, have all contributed to an encouraging explosion of interest in local food. This newfound interest has more people making the connection between food (local or otherwise) and the necessity of farmland protection.

A recent No Farms, No Food Rally in New York is emblematic of the wide ranging groups and organizations coming together on common issues around farmland and food.  Organized by AFT to lobby against short-sighted state budget cuts to important farmland protection, conservation, and nutrition programs, the rally attracted farmer organizations, land trusts, farmers market advocates, environmental groups, food co-ops, anti-hunger programs, faith-based community groups and rural community advocates, all coalescing around the relationship between consumers, communities, farmers, food, the environment and the farmland that ties it all together.

On Earth Day, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission released a Local Food Assessment and Plan for Central Ohio with the subtitle, “A strategy for strengthening the economy, ensuring access to healthful food, reducing food-shipping distance, and preserving farmland.”

Similarly, AFT’s Growing Local Initiative works to connect the interest in local foods with the farms, communities and farmland essential to meeting this demand.

The importance of the inextricable link between food and farmland protection was again underscored last week with the release of the 2007 NRI data showing that more than 23 million acres of agricultural land were lost to development between 1982 and 2007.  That’s millions of acres no longer growing the food needed to feed our families, protecting habitat for our wildlife, sequestering carbon and contributing to our rural communities.

Just as consumers are connecting more and more with their food and the farmers who produce it, reconnecting food to farmland is a positive development.

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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