“Once again we see a nationwide decline in land in farms,” says Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust (AFT). “While this does not automatically mean the land has been converted to developed uses, it does mean the agricultural land is no longer in production. This comes at a time when there is much discussion about the importance of agriculture and agricultural land in meeting some of the biggest food, fiber, energy, and ecosystem challenges our nation faces.”

According to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, the land in farms dropped from 938,279,056 to 922,095,840 acres. This is a decrease of 16.2 million acres.

“A decline of land in farms serves as a warning sign,” adds Bob Wagner, AFT’s senior director, farmland protection programs. “A decrease can urge communities and states to consider policies and programs that support the viability of agriculture. When farming is not economically sustainable, we know that farmers leave agriculture and are much more likely to sell their land.”

But the census numbers do not measure farmland conversion. The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service formerly provided reliable farmland conversion data through the National Resources Inventory (NRI) at the national and state levels, but the agency has not had adequate resources to support this effort for several years. “AFT would like to see the NRI revived, and the development of state level tracking systems so communities can understand what’s happening to agricultural land, set farmland protection goals and measure their progress.” “The National Resources Inventory has withered on the vine,” says Wagner.

“Based on census date, farmers and ranchers control 41 percent of the land area in the United States which means they are in unique position to address some of the nation’s most pressing environmental issues,” adds Scholl.

The Census of Agriculture is typically recorded every five years by the National Agricultural Statistics Service and provides a snapshot of current crop and livestock production, land use and ownership and value of agricultural products sold at the national, state and county level. For more information on farmland conversion and other farmland protection and stewardship issues, please contact the Farmland Information Center at 800-370-4879 x13. The Farmland Information Center is a clearinghouse for information and is a public/private partnership between American Farmland Trust and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Its’ resources are free to the public.

Scholl and his staff at AFT work to protect the nation’s farms and ranches and the agricultural spaces that provide clean water, clean air, and wildlife habitat; and in working with agriculture to be part of the solution to such national challenges as climate change. In addition to its Agriculture & Environment Campaign, AFT’s Growing Local Campaign works to protect farms and farmland for the future, connect communities with fresh, local food, and fight for better farm and food policies. Scholl invites the public to learn more about AFT’s recommendations to the Obama administration for better policies for farms, food and the environment at www.farmland.org.

American Farmland Trust is a national nonprofit organization working with communities and individuals to protect the land, plan for agriculture and keep the land healthy. As the nation's leading advocate for farm and ranch land conservation, AFT has ensured that more than a million acres stays bountiful and productive. AFT’s national office is located in Washington, D.C. The phone number is 202-331-7300.