Survey Finds Private Land Trusts Play Key Role in Protecting Farmland and Ranchland

Jennifer Dempsey

With support from USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, American Farmland Trust recently conducted its second nationwide survey of private land trusts to identify organizations that actively protect farm and ranch land for agriculture, and to quantify the amount of agricultural land they have protected.

Saving American Farmland: 2017 Nationwide Survey of Land Trusts That Protect Farm and Ranch Land, released by AFT's Farmland Information Center, finds private land trusts play a significant role in protecting farm and ranch land across the country and their importance is increasing.

Land trusts have protected at least 4.4 million acres of farm and ranch land nationwide. Nearly all of this is protected under 8,898 easements, with an additional 332 farms and ranches owned in fee.

This total represents a 45 percent increase from the results of our 2012 land trust survey. 

However, only a small number of land trusts have engaged in protecting agricultural land for agriculture. Just 52 land trusts accounted for 94 percent of the protected acres.

Key to their success is partnering with public entities and the availability of public funds. AFT estimates land trusts protected 1.3 million acres in partnership with state and local purchase of agricultural conservation easement, or PACE, programs. We also found an increase in participation of the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program—Agricultural Land Easements, or ACEP-ALE—a critical source of matching funds. Together, land trusts and PACE programs protected a combined estimated total of 6.5 million acres of farm and ranch land.

But some regions—like the Plains, Delta States, and Corn Belt—are underserved by land trusts protecting farmland for agriculture. According to our Farms Under Threat report, these regions boast some of the nation’s best land for food and crop production. State and local investments to match the increase in ACEP-ALE funding authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, coupled with the creation of partners—public PACE programs at the state and local level—could strengthen land trust capacity and help fill the gap.

Click here to see the full findings