Editorial: Farmland in Peril

2/1/2014 7:00 AM
By Dennis Larison Editor

Just when you think agriculture is finally getting some public support through a compromise in Congress on the long-delayed Farm Bill, along comes a report casting a shadow on the future of farming.

As the disparity between those who work the land and those who live in urban settings continues to increase, so does the loss of farmland to the growing sprawl of cities.

In a report released last week, American Farmland Trust does find a bit of good news in its most recent survey of efforts to preserve the nation’s dwindling farmland.

State funding for those efforts actually rose by 19 percent from 2011 to 2012, reversing a recession-era slide.

Still, that state funding remains 39 percent below 2008 levels. And what we’re talking about here is a rear-guard effort meant to slow the rapid loss of land to development, not reverse it.

Andrew McElwaine, the trust’s president and CEO, does point out, though, that the recent funding increase is an indication of public support.

“This increase shows that a number of states have put a priority on protecting farmland,” he said. And significantly, this has been happening “while state spending on environmental protection programs generally continues on a downward trend.”

Readers of Lancaster Farming should be gratified to learn that Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Vermont are among the leaders, along with Colorado, in the number of acres protected.

New Jersey leads other states in both the percentage of its farmland that has been protected and the amount of money it’s spent — $957.1 million — in those efforts.

Pennsylvania has spent nearly as much, $853 million, followed by Maryland, $672.3 million; Massachusetts, 214.2 million; and Colorado, $170.5 million.

Pennsylvania, with its expanse of rural areas, doesn’t rank in percentage of land preserved compared with New Jersey, 27 percent; Delaware, 21 percent; Maryland, 18 percent; Massachusetts, 13 percent; or Vermont, 11 percent.

Still, that’s looking on the bright side. Turn that around to show the percentage of land not preserved, and the numbers would be much larger.

McElwaine acknowledges that “if states had continued the same level of funding they had in 2008, we would have saved an additional 358,000 acres of agricultural land and purchased 2,000 additional farmland conservation easements.”

Although he cites a recent increase in the latest congressional budget deal in funding for the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program, McElwaine says more government efforts are needed on federal, state and local levels.

“While there is some optimism in our survey, the United States has been losing one acre of farmland every minute to development,” he said. “In the face of a global need to double food production by 2050, that is unacceptable.”

Somehow, the American public needs to be shaken out of its complacent assumption that food will always be cheap and plentiful.


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10/25/2014 | Last Updated: 1:15 AM