For 40 years, American Farmland Trust (AFT) has used high-quality research to demonstrate the need to protect farmland and ranchland—and to provide solutions. In 2016, AFT launched the Farms Under Threat initiative to update our research for the 21st century. Working in partnership with Conservation Science Partners, we are harnessing the latest technological advancements to accurately document the extent, diversity, location, and quality of agricultural land in the continental United States—as well as the threats to this land from expanding commercial, industrial, and residential development.
AFT has now dug deeper with Farms Under Threat: The State of the States. Our new spatial analyses incorporate updated datasets and refined methods, allowing us to map agricultural land at the state, county, and even sub-county levels. At the same time, we conducted an extensive analysis of six state policy responses to the forces that lead to agricultural land conversion: development pressure, weakened farm viability, and the challenges of transferring land to a new generation.
Our findings show that between 2001 and 2016, 11 million acres of farmland and ranchland were converted to urban and highly developed land use (4.1 million acres) or low-density residential land use (nearly 7 million acres). That’s equal to all the U.S. farmland devoted to fruit, nut, and vegetable production in 2017—or 2,000 acres a day paved over, built up, and converted to uses that threaten the future of agriculture.
AFT created an Agricultural Land Protection Scorecard to show how states have—or have not—responded to the threats of agricultural land conversion. We assessed six policy tools commonly used to protect farmland, support agricultural viability, and provide access to land. Linking our spatial findings to policy solutions will help advocates and decision-makers plan for and protect their valued agricultural resources for future generations.