You may have noticed a change in your own community over the past few decades. Traffic that slows to a crawl, along congested roads, past McMansions sprouting from former farm fields. It wasn’t always like this, but over the past 30 years much of America’s most fertile farmland has been lost to wasteful development.
Data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2007 National Resources Inventory tells the story in numbers. During the 25-year period from 1982 to 2007, more than 23 million acres of America’s agricultural land were lost to development—an area the size of Indiana. Every state lost agricultural land. In Texas, the loss was a staggering 2.9 million acres, while in New Jersey more than a quarter of the state’s agricultural land was lost.
Despite the bad news, there were some positive signs in the data. Despite a booming housing market during portions of the 25-year reporting period, the nationwide rate of farmland loss actually declined over time, thanks to growing awareness and smart growth policies that encourage more efficient development. And some states launched ambitious efforts to counter land development with permanent protection.