Many of the numbers from the NRI that we’ve analyzed are sobering,” adds Scholl. “But there are a few bright spots.” Some of the positives include a decline in the nationwide rate of farmland loss over the 25-year reporting period, despite a booming housing market during portions of that timeframe. “This overall decline is likely due to smart growth policies that encourage more efficient development,” adds Julia Freedgood, AFT's Managing Director of Farmland Protection. 

In particular, FIC staff found that:

More efficient development slowed conversion

  • From 2002–2007, the national average annual conversion rate was 816,060 acres per year, down 29 percent from the 1992–1997 reporting period—the most intense period of agricultural land conversion.The slowdown occurred despite record numbers of building permits, and housing completions and a peak in spending on private, nonresidential development..
  • Data from the American Housing Survey show a drop in the percentage of single-unit houses built on larger lots
(1 to 5 acres and lots larger than 5 acres) and an overall decrease in the median lot size outside urban areas.
  • While 45 of the 48 contiguous states experienced net increases in population, 13 states developed less than a quarter acre of agricultural land for each new person added from 1982-2007: New Hampshire, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, California, Washington, Georgia, Nevada, Florida, Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Oregon. 

Purchase of agricultural conservation easement programs (PACE) save land for the future

  • Agricultural landowners nationwide have sold permanent easements on more than 2.4 million acres
  • Three states protected more than one acrefor every acre developed: Vermont (3.04), Maryland (1.42), and Delaware (1.06).
Five more states had protected more than 0.5 acre for each acre lost: Pennsylvania (0.55 acre), New Jersey (0.58 acre),
Colorado (0.61 acre), Massachusetts (0.70 acre) and Connecticut (0.71 acre).

“The NRI data show that the threat to our agricultural resources is real,” adds Freedgood. “But we were heartened to find that policies to encourage more efficient development work—slowing farmland loss and buying time. Smart growth coupled with permanent farmland protection programs ensures that in the face of growth agricultural land will be available to produce food for our nation and a growing world population.”

In addition, farm and ranch lands supply multiple community benefits ranging from fiscal stability and economic opportunity to flood prevention and wildlife habitat. Freedgood concludes, “Saving farmland is a vital and timely investment in national security.”

 To learn more about the NRI, access the Farmland Information Center’s resources via website, or call 800-370-4879 for research assistance.