Farm and Ranch Land
The Census of Agriculture tracks land uses on farm operations as reported by farm operators. Major categories include: total cropland, total woodland, permanent pasture and rangeland, and all other land including farmsteads, buildings, livestock facilities, ponds, roads, etc. Combined, these categories equal “land in farms.” From 2012 to 2017, land in farms dropped from 914,527,657 acres to 900,217,576 acres. This represents a 2 percent decrease, but continues a steady decline that has resulted in a 86,579,003 million acre decrease in land devoted to agriculture since 1982.
Declines in land in farms are concerning. Land that is no longer part of a farm may be more vulnerable to development; a shrinking supply of land in active agricultural use may create additional barriers for beginning and established farmers seeking suitable land (e.g., costs associated with clearing and restoring agricultural use); and a smaller pool of land devoted to agriculture may limit opportunities to establish sound farming practices and/or management systems.
Land in Farms
- Fewer acres of land in farms: Down 14,310,081 acres (a two percent drop)
- Most states saw a decline: 34 states experienced a reduction in land in farms
- Biggest acre losses: Texas, New Mexico, Montana, Wyoming and California
- Largest percentage decreases: Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Maine, Massachusetts—four of the five reported double-digit percentage decreases
- Little change in share of land devoted to agriculture: Land in farms hovers at 40 percent of the nation’s land area
- The good news is complicated: 16 states experienced upticks in land in farms amid the nationwide decline. We’ll be looking to see if increases in land in farms coincide with increases in the number of farms, producers, or beginning producers.
Net changes in land in farms can be misleading. They provide one measure of the magnitude of agricultural activity, but do not tell us what is happening to the resource base. Decreases in land in farms, for example, do not equate to or represent conversion; they indicate that land has been taken out of active production. This land is likely to be vulnerable to conversion, particularly in areas experiencing development pressure. A better source for information about development and dynamic changes in land cover/use is the National Resources Inventory.