Why save farmland?

We need fertile farmland to grow the healthy food we all need to survive. Did you know:

  • Farms and ranches support local economies and create jobs.
  • Farm and ranch lands typically generate more revenue for local governments than they demand in services.
  • Farmers manage nearly half of the land in the lower 48 states. Well-managed agricultural land provides food and cover for wildlife, helps control flooding, and absorbs and filters storm water. Well-managed farmland also traps carbon in the soil, benefitting the environment.

How much agricultural land in the U.S. has been lost to development?

According to our recent report, Farms Under Threat: The State of America's Farmland, the U.S. lost nearly 31 million acres of land between 1992 and 2012. That's 175 acres an hour, or 3 acres every single minute. 11 million of those acres were among the best farmland in the nation—classified as the most productive, most versatile and most resilient land. Development disproportionately occurred on agricultural lands, with 62 percent of all development occurring on farmland. Expanding urban areas accounted for 59 percent of the loss. Low-density residential development, or the building of houses on one- to 20-acre parcels, accounted for 41 percent. For more information, visit www.farmland.org/FarmsUnderThreat

How much land in the U.S. is used for agriculture?

Our nation's 2,109,303 farms sit on 914,527,657 acres, accounting for 40.5 percent of our total land area. Farms can include cropland, permanent pasture and range land, woodland, plus land in farmsteads and buildings. For more information on the 2012 Census of Agriculture, click here.

What is prime farmland?

Prime farmland soils have the best physical and chemical properties for most kinds of agriculture, requiring less water, fertilizers and pesticides. They are the easiest soils to keep healthy, farm profitably, and grow the widest variety of crops with the least environmental impact. Prime farmland soils are the most resilient to extreme weather, such as drought and heavy rainfall. They are also at the most risk of being developed.

How can I protect my land for farming?

An agricultural conservation easement (ACE) is one of the most effective ways to protect land for farming.

What is an agricultural conservation easement?

An agricultural conservation easement (ACE) is a deed restriction that landowners voluntarily place on their property to keep productive land available for farming. Landowners grant ACEs to a public agency or qualified conservation organization. ACEs can be tailored to each property and to the needs and conservation goals of each landowner. ACEs typically permit agricultural activities and structures (e.g., barns and fences) but limit uses that are inconsistent with commercial agriculture (e.g., non-farm dwellings).

What is a Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) program?

Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) programs compensate landowners for placing an agricultural conservation easement (ACE) on their land to keep it available for agriculture. PACE programs offer a financially competitive alternative to selling farmland for development. State and local governments and private conservation organizations implement PACE programs. PACE programs rely on public funding, including matching funds from the federal Agricultural Conservation Easement Program. PACE programs often consider soil quality, threat of development and future agricultural viability when prioritizing farms for protection.

What is a land trust?

Land trusts are private conservation organizations that protect natural resources by acquiring or helping other organizations to acquire land or conservation easements. Some land trusts protect farm and ranch land for agriculture. Most land trusts accept donations of land or easements but some use private and public funds to compensate landowners. AFT helped to start several agricultural land trusts nationwide.

How can my town or county protect farmland?

Local governments can play an important role in farmland protection. Planning for agriculture envisions a future for agriculture in a given place over a specified time period. The planning process typically results in a comprehensive document that establishes goals and recommends programs and policies for protecting farmland and supporting local agriculture. Plans for agriculture propose strategies to steer growth away from active agricultural areas, reduce regulatory barriers for agriculture, encourage appropriate agricultural infrastructure development, encourage new opportunities for producers and address sustainable use of agricultural resources.

How can my state protect farmland?

Every state has at least one policy or program that helps protect farmland, including:

  • Agricultural district programs allow farmers to form special areas where commercial agriculture is encouraged and protected. In exchange for enrollment, farmers receive a package of benefits that vary from state to state.
  • Differential assessment laws direct local governments to assess agricultural land at its value for agriculture, instead of its full fair market value, which is generally higher.
  • Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement (PACE) programs compensate landowners for placing an agricultural conservation easement on their land to keep it available for agriculture.
  • Right to Farm laws strengthen the legal position of farmers when neighbors sue them for private nuisance and can help protect farmers from anti-nuisance ordinances and unreasonable controls on farming operations.
  • Transfer of development rights (TDR) programs protect farmland by shifting development from agricultural areas to areas planned for growth. When the development rights are transferred from a piece of property, the land is typically restricted with a permanent agricultural conservation easement. When someone in a more developed area buys the development rights from agricultural land they may be allowed to build at a higher density than typically permitted in the area.

How much agricultural land in the U.S. has been permanently protected?

AFT estimates that agricultural landowners working in partnership with state and local Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easement programs and land trusts have protected nearly five million acres of farm and ranch land for agriculture. Nearly all is protected by agricultural conservation easements.

For more information, visit the Farmland Information Center

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