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Tools for The Farmer in Chief
Opinion submitted to the New York Times, October 21, 2008

Michael Pollan has so aptly identified several issues of national importance for anyone in the country that cares about the future of our food, farms and communities in his article to our country’s next president titled, “Farmer In Chief” (The New York Times, October 9, 2008).

First, Mr. Pollan cites an American Farmland Trust (AFT) statistic that farmland is being lost to development at a rate of 2,880 acres per day, noting how nations that lose the ability to substantially feed themselves will find themselves gravely compromised… for there are no alternatives to food. Succinctly: “No Farms, No Food.”

As the only national farmland protection organization, AFT urges our new president to commission a thorough and objective study of American farmland as a strategic national resource. For our very food, health, environment, energy demand, climate and economy are all influenced by the
U.S. agricultural system: by how much and what kind of farmland remains in production, and by what kinds of farming practices are being employed on that land.

The last time a National Agricultural Lands Study[PDF] was done was in 1980-1981—before the advent of globalization, diminishing fossil fuels and climate change—and before nearly
27 million more acres of American farm and ranchland were paved over. It’s past time to know where we stand today.

Second, Mr. Pollan challenges all of us to recognize the value of farmland to our national security,
“in the same way we came to recognize the supreme ecological value of wetlands.” While Mr. Pollan suggests the possibility of conducting “food-system impact statements” before undertaking development, our nation's new president has a number of tools already at hand.

Since the 1981 Farm Bill, we have had the Farmland Protection Policy Act, that requires federal agencies who use tax dollars to finance projects, like highways, to look at alternatives in order to conserve farmland. We’re counting on the next president to faithfully enforce this law and make full use of this valuable tool. Had the law been more vigorously enforced in the past, tens of millions of acres of farmland could have been saved. Unless the law is enforced, tens of millions more acres will needlessly and forever be lost. 

In addition, it is time for a progressive approach to legislation: for instance, a national approach to farmland mitigation, or a national no-net loss of farmland policy.

Despite the terrible loss of farmland, AFT strongly believes in the power of U.S. farmers and farmland as central elements in solving some of the greatest challenges facing the nation in the
21st century. Through our Growing Local and Agriculture & the Environment campaigns, we make the connection between protecting farmland, supporting the viability of farms and regional food systems, and helping agriculture have a positive net impact on the environment.

We applaud Mr. Pollan for again setting the stage for public discourse, for there is no topic of greater importance than the issues he raises. Weagree that it is time to elevate these issues to their rightful place on our national agenda—championing the benefits of farming and the protection of our nation’s most strategic resource, farmland.

We welcome the public’s help in supporting our efforts. We challenge the next administration to:

  • Elevate the importance of our farmland to our national security;
  • Use the farmland protection tools at hand; and,
  • Work with organizations like AFT to provide new tools and policies for well-managed farms and farmland.

If we do this, we will contribute to a vibrant future for our communities and environment.

Jon Scholl, President
American Farmland Trust

Jon Scholl is the President of American Farmland Trust. A corn and soybean farmer from Illinois,
he has an extensive experience in agriculture, conservation and policy issues. Prior to joining AFT, Scholl served as the Counselor to the Administrator for Agriculture at the U.S. EPA, and for
many years with the Illinois Farm Bureau as director of public policy, national legislation and
natural resources.


American Farmland Trust is the nation's leading conservation organization dedicated to protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices and keeping farmers on the land. Since its founding in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development, AFT has helped save millions of acres of farmland from development and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more.

AFT's national office is located in Washington, DC. Phone: 202-331-7300. For more information, visit www.farmland.org.

American Farmland Trust