Smart land use planning is needed to protect farmland, reports American Farmland Trust

According to the American Farmland Trust’s new report Farms Under Threat 2040: Choosing an Abundant Future and accompanying web-mapping tool, smart growth and investment in downtowns and main streets across the United States must take place now to secure the lands that grow our food.

“There is an urgent need to protect the lands that grow our food,” said Mitch Hunter, AFT research director and lead author of the report. “In recent years, the global food system has been severely disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, the war in Ukraine and widespread drought, plunging millions more people into severe famine. The growing effects of climate change and the increase in the world’s population will make it increasingly difficult to ensure a stable food supply in the decades to come.

AFT’s research on threatened farms showed that Americans are paving farmland at a rapid pace. From 2001 to 2016, our nation lost or compromised 2,000 acres of agricultural and ranching land every day.

Farms Under Threat 2040 shows we’re on track to convert more than 18 million acres of farmland and ranch land between 2016 and 2040, an area the size of South Carolina. And it could get worse. If rural sprawl accelerates, America could waste 1 million acres of farmland each year and more than 24 million by 2040. But if Americans choose a path to embrace smart growth and minimize the sprawl, up to 13.5 million acres of the country’s irreplaceable farm and ranch land can be saved.

Sprawling cities, climate change, energy development and remote working are converging to threaten the lands that grow food, jeopardizing the country’s food security and environment. Simultaneously, an aging farm population is retiring, potentially leaving 40% of US farmland with an uncertain future.

Farms Under Threat is AFT’s multi-year effort to advance cutting-edge solutions for protecting farmland. AFT uses high-resolution spatial analysis tools to identify where agricultural land has been converted to low-density urban and residential land. The 2040 report projects this data into the future to present three alternative development scenarios – Business as Usual, Runaway Sprawl and Better Built Cities. The report shows that development choices have a significant effect on the future of farmland and ranches and urges Americans to embrace better-built cities to protect local farms and ranches, strengthen the global food system and improve lives. people’s daily life.

Better Built Cities is not just about saving farmland. Smart growth aims to improve the lives of people in cities and suburbs. Businesses can thrive on walkable main streets and families can live close to their daily destinations. A variety of transportation options, including walking, cycling, and public transit, can help reduce air pollution from cars while saving people and cities money. Neighborhoods are more livable, with a variety of housing types and price ranges. Parks and greenways exist for recreation and respite, and plenty of rural land exists nearby to provide local food and access to nature.

“America will need more development in the coming decades as the population grows. Indeed, many states currently face a severe shortage of affordable housing. Compact development is the best way to address this need and also the key to saving farmland and ranches,” Hunter said. “Similarly, we must meet our growing energy demand with renewable energy that benefits agriculture and rural communities — AFT calls smart solar We’ll also need to establish programs to bring a new generation of farmers and ranchers to the land to grow food and protect the environment, as America’s aging farm population takes its toll. retirement.

Every American can help. Better Built Cities, the report explains, sees policy makers and land use planners come together with farmers, pastoralists and concerned citizens. Developers can choose to revitalize urban spaces and build compact communities. Citizens can attend county council meetings and promote land use decisions that protect farmlands and ranches. Individuals can also support local land trusts, buy locally produced food, and choose to live in compact towns and city centers. Farmland and ranch owners can protect their property with a permanent agricultural conservation easement that limits development and ensures that their land becomes a heirloom that will nurture future generations.

The report explains realities and choices, mapped and analyzed. Citizens can see the impacts on their communities and read about potential solutions, what they should ask their government officials, and ways they can get involved.

“Agricultural lands in the United States produce an amazing array of food, fiber, biofuels and other raw materials. This abundance has made the United States one of the most food-secure countries in the world. Yet it can also mask vulnerabilities. For too many Americans, it’s easy to overlook the loss of farmland or dismiss it as inevitable. This puts our future at risk,” said AFT Chairman and CEO John Piotti. “We need agricultural land not only to feed a growing population, but also to provide essential ecological services that feed wildlife, purify water and sequester atmospheric carbon. If we stay on our current development path, we will eventually run out of land to grow our food; but long before that, I fear we are running out of the farmland we need to care for an environmentally degraded planet.

Amalia H. Mercado