During the past 30 years, much of America’s most fertile farmland has been lost to wasteful development. The visible signs of a changing landscape can be seen as farm fields fade beneath sprouting McMansions. Thankfully, the National Resources Inventory helps to provide a framework for understanding the true immediacy of protecting our nation’s farm and ranch lands. The NRI, conducted by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in cooperation with Iowa State University’s Center for Survey Statistics and Methodology, is a survey of the nation’s non-federal lands that tells the story of farmland loss by the numbers.
The most recent NRI, covering the 25-year period between 1982 and 2007, reveals that more than 23 million acres of America’s agricultural land have been lost to development—an area the size of Indiana. According to the NRI, not a single state in the continental United States was left untouched. In fact, the most fertile land was developed at a disproportionately high rate. Thirty-eight percent of the agricultural land developed nationwide was prime, the land that is best suited to produce food and other agricultural crops.
The NRI results are a clear reminder that, although progress is being made, there is more work yet to be done. This information can help communities across the country to understand what is happening to agricultural land and to reflect on the importance of establishing farmland protection goals. Protecting our nation’s agricultural land relies on a concerted effort on both the national and local levels. Learn about some ideas to support conservation through our Seven Ways to Save Farmland and join us and save the land that sustains us.
This analysis was completed by the Farmland Information Center (FIC), a partnership between American Farmland Trust and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. The FIC staff review the NRI estimates and examine other data sources to determine what the numbers mean. A clearinghouse for information about farmland protection and stewardship, the FIC maintains an ever-growing collection of federal, state and local laws, literature, sample documents and technical resources.