Farms Under Threat

Keep America Bountiful

"Quite simply, we cannot have a sustainable future without sustainable farms." John Piotti, President, American Farmland Trust

The United States is blessed with an extraordinary agricultural landscape which supports a regionally diverse food and farming system, state and local economies and the nation’s balance of trade. 

Our farmland and ranchland provide environmental amenities including wildlife habitat, groundwater recharge, and fire suppression. They are a magnet for tourism and offer recreational opportunities for hunting, fishing, riding and hiking. This land is our legacy as we look to the past and plan for the future.

But this land is at risk. 

With an expanding population, a changing climate and other economic and demographic pressures, competition for land and water will only increase. Are we conserving enough farmland to protect our legacy and ensure food security for future generations?

Initial Findings

AFT's major new initiative, Farms Under Threat, builds on our history of using the best data available to track the irreversible loss of farm and ranch lands to development. We released our last landmark analysis (Farming on the Edge) in 2007.

Now we’re working with Conservation Science Partners to use the most accurate national-level data and computer models available to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the nation’s agricultural lands. We are documenting both past conversion and projecting the impacts of multiple threats our remaining farmland will face out to 2040 unless we take action now.  

Our initial analysis shows the extent and diversity of America’s farm and ranch lands. The findings suggest we disproportionately urbanized some of our most productive, versatile and resilient farm and ranch lands between 1992 and 2012. AND, for intensive food and crop production, only a dwindling percentage of these lands offer producers the greatest flexibility with the fewest limitations. The resulting shifts in agricultural land uses onto more marginal lands have implications for domestic food security and resiliency which we will explore more fully in future reports.

Map of land cover/uses in 2012

As the map below shows, American farmland is a rich and varied landscape which includes over one billion acres of crop, pasture, range, federal grazing lands and woodlands associated with farms. 

The broad extent of land managed by farmers and ranchers in 2012

Farmers and ranchers manage nearly 55 percent of the land in the continental U.S.

Up Next for Farms Under Threat

In spring 2018, AFT will publish national findings based on a retrospective analysis of the conversion of agricultural land since 1992. The report will consider both the quality and quantity of the lands we're losing based on a unique analysis that assigns weights to the productivity, versatility and resiliency of agricultural lands, and locates the land with the highest potential for intensive food and crop production. 

Later in 2018, AFT will release state-level data and information about the past conversion of agricultural lands and the effectiveness of state policies to protect farm and ranchland. Going forward, AFT will also release county data and publish its findings from projective scenarios using housing density and climate projections to forecast what could happen to our farm and ranchlands by 2040 if we fail to take action.  


For more information, please contact AFT's Farmland Information Center at 1-800-370-4879.                                 

National Advisory Committee

American Farmland Trust is grateful to the following individuals for committing their time, energy, creativity and expertise to the Farms Under Threat Initiative.

Chet Arnold, University of Connecticut

Nelson Bills, Cornell University

Jimmy Bramblett, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service 

Carrie Burns, Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future (emeritus)

Jill Clark, The Ohio State University

Dick Esseks, University of Nebraska

Jerry Hatfield, USDA Agricultural Research Services

Megan Horst, Portland State University

Libby Jones, Airdrie Stud Farm and former Kentucky First Lady

Tony Kramer, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (emeritus)

Mark Lapping, University of Southern Maine

Roel Lopez, Texas A&M Institute

Mike McCoy, California Strategic Growth Council

Mike McGrath, Philadelphia Society of Promoting Agriculture

Jim Mosely, Mosely Land Company

Larry Orman, GreenInfo Network

Mary Podoll, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service  

David Rouse, American Planning Association

David Smith, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (emeritus)

With Gratitude

Farms Under Threat is made possible with the support of American Farmland Trust members, our board of directors and the generous contributions of:

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