Rural communities are quickly losing farmland acres

A recent report from American Farmland Trust shows an alarming trend of farmland disappearing from Rural America. Angie Doucette, the Midwest Farmland Protection Manager with the organization, says the number of lost acres is disturbing.

With some of the richest, most productive land in the U.S., the Midwest has found itself in a land battle between agriculture and urban growth.

“Out first Farms Under Threat initiative has shown that between 2001 and 2016, a time span of just 15 years, the Midwest lost over 1.1 million acres of farmland and that’s across seven states, and we’re showing that the trend is accelerating,” said Doucette.

She says there is almost no chance of farmland getting put back into production once it is lost.

“The strength of our economy takes a direct hit when high-quality cropland is lost forever to urban development, and unfortunately, this disproportionately impacts smaller farms that often serve markets with fresh produce, eggs, dairy, meat, and things like that. Those small and urban farms tend to be the ones that incubate our new farmers, so supporting our farm economy, and as we’ve seen, due to the impacts of the pandemic, they’re instrumental in navigating food supply chain disruptions that we continue to see at our grocery stores across the nation. So, it’s a pretty significant impact across many facets of the American lifestyle,” Doucette said.

Doucette says over the course of 15 years, 1.1 million acres of farmland were converted over seven states including Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota. She says this loss will only get worse.

“By 2040, in less than 20 years, an additional 3.1 million acres, which is nearly 5,000 square miles of Midwest farmland, may be lost to urban and low-density residential development,” Doucette explained.

She says there are things we can do to preserve farm acres.

“The thing about Farms Under Threat is that we modeled three different scenarios: the runaway sprawl scenario, which is where things just kind of go significantly more rapid in development projection, or the current business-as-usual, where the current trends continue, and we see that 3.1 million acres are lost, but there’s a different scenario: a better-built city. So, that’s to say that not all hope is not lost,” said Doucette.

Doucette says the tools exist to save our region’s farmland, and we can begin by embracing smart growth, permanently protecting agricultural lands, and supporting the next generation of farmers.

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