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Critical Mass: Does the Number of Productive Farmland Acres or Farms Affect Farmland Loss?

As farmland and the number of farms has decreased over the last 50 years, some have questioned whether there is a “critical mass” of agricultural land needed to sustain a viable agricultural sector. The total amount of farmland decreased by 20 percent in the United States between 1949 and 1997. In the Mid-Atlantic region, 50 percent of the farmland left the industry during this same period. The number of farms in the United States as a whole declined by 65 percent between 1949 and 1997, while the Mid-Atlantic lost farms at a rate of 71 percent. In metropolitan areas, agricultural land has been converted to alternative uses even faster than these averages (Lockeretz 1989; Gardner 1994). Given these patterns, one might question whether the continuing conversion of farmland to other uses will result in too few acres or too little farm activity to sustain an agricultural economy in certain areas.

Downloadable Documents
Lori Lynch
College Park, MD: University of Maryland
Page Numbers
Publication Date
January 01, 2007
Publication Type
Reports and Guides

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