American Farmland Trust’s research has catalyzed our programming and informed the work of other organizations and local, state, and federal policy. Over the last four decades, AFT has studied:

  • the fiscal impacts of urban sprawl,
  • the environmental and social benefits of farmland,
  • the fiscal contribution of local land uses (in cost of community services studies),
  • public support for expanding conservation on agricultural lands,
  • support within the farm community for changes in farm policy,
  • the effectiveness of conservation compliance (tying farm support to conservation requirements), and
  • research and pilot projects to expand the use of sustainable agricultural and integrated pest management.

Our research staff work with research fellows work with graduate students through ongoing relationships with universities. We use research to determine the most effective policy approaches and to validate any approaches we decide to advocate for to advance AFT’s mission. We also use research to document the effectiveness of our on-the-ground work and report our achievements.

Recent research highlights include:

Farm Under Threat

AFT has maintained unique data on America’s farmland for years. In 2018, we released the first report from our Farms Under Threat initiative, the most comprehensive analysis of America’s farmland ever done. Farms Under Threat picks up where our groundbreaking report “Farming on the Edge” left off. The data in “Farming on the Edge” helped AFT identify areas where some of our higher quality farmland was in the path of development, providing an early warning to land-use planners. Farms Under Threat harnesses the latest national datasets to provide information on where and what type of development threatens our farmland and quantifies what we have already lost, particularly in terms of the farmland most suited for long term food production. It also adds significantly to the agricultural land inventory by mapping woodlands associated with farm enterprises and federal lands used for livestock grazing.

Farmer Demographics

AFT regularly analyzes the federal agricultural census to produce useful data about farmers, both nationally and in particular states and regions.

Non-Operating Landowners

Non-operating landowners now own over 40 percent of America’s farmland, but practically no demographic information exists about this group, despite their critical importance to American agriculture. AFT has conducted the first major survey of non-operating landowners ever done.

Quantifiable Conservation Outcomes

Linking improvements in water quality to conservation practices farmers are adopting within a given watershed is challenging but necessary. AFT has researched what works and is now spreading the word on how to define, achieve, and measure success—not only for watershed projects that work with farmers to reduce nutrient runoff and improve water quality in nearby lakes, streams and rivers, but also for water quality trading markets and other environmental markets that pay farmers for documented environmental benefits.

Farm Bills

Starting with the 1985 Farm Bill and with every subsequent farm bill, AFT has used research to help us design or determine our policy approaches. Our research efforts have included surveys of farmers and the general public, studies on the effectiveness of implemented policies, and the development of new policy approaches to conservation.