Data from the National Resources Inventory show that our nation’s farmland is under intense conversion pressure, but also highlight the importance of smart growth and permanent protection,” says Jon Scholl, President of American Farmland Trust (AFT). “Even my home state of Illinois, traditionally one of our strongest farm states, ranked 7thnationwide in the loss of farmland from 2002–2007. Fighting this trend and raising this issue at all levels of government is something I hope I can convince many people to join me in doing.”

The NRI is a survey of the nation’s non-federal lands conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’sNatural Resources Conservation Service in cooperation with Iowa State University since 1982. It documents natural resource conditions and trends, including the conversion of agricultural land to developed uses. One of its striking findings is that more than one out of every three acres of developed land in the United States was developed from 1982 – 2007.

AFT’s Farmland Information Center staff have reviewed the estimates and examined other data sources to understand the significance of the new NRI. Their key findings include:

Every state lost agricultural land to development

  • From 1982–2007, each of the 48 contiguous states lost agricultural land
(crop, Conservation Reserve Program, pasture and range land) to development. More than 23 million acres of agricultural land were converted to developed land nationwide—an area the size of the state of Indiana.
  • The states that developed the largest percentage of their agricultural land include:
New Jersey (26.8 percent), Rhode Island (22.5 percent), Massachusetts (18.1 percent), Delaware (14.3 percent), and New Hampshire (13.2 percent).
 

The United Statesconverted more of its best land

  • Prime agricultural land—land best suited to growing food and other agricultural crops with the fewest inputs and least erosion—was converted to developed land at a disproportionately higher rate from 1982–2007: 44 percent more than non-prime agricultural land during the same time period.

Farmland conversion threatens domestic fruit and vegetable production

  • California and Florida, two of the three states that lost the most agricultural land, account for 47 percent of the nation’s vegetable and 71 percent of its fruit production based on market value.