NEW REPORT: Smarter Land Use Planning is Urgently Needed to Safeguard Mid-Atlantic Land That Grows Our Food - American Farmland Trust

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NEW REPORT: Smarter Land Use Planning is Urgently Needed to Safeguard Mid-Atlantic Land That Grows Our Food

WASHINGTON, DC – Smart growth – that includes planning for agriculture — and investment in Mid-Atlantic downtowns and main streets must occur now to secure the land that grows our food, according to American Farmland Trust’s new report Farms Under Threat 2040: Choosing an Abundant Future and the accompanying web mapping tool.

Three future scenarios are modeled in the report: ‘Business as Usual’, where development remains on its  2001-2016 trajectory as documented in Farms Under Threat: The State of the States; ‘Runaway Sprawl’, where rising housing costs in metropolitan areas and remote work arrangements increase development pressure in rural areas above the level of ‘Business as Usual’; and ‘Better Built Cities’, where policymakers and land-use planners deploy a coordinated portfolio of smart-growth policies that reduce sprawl, increase the livability of cities and town, and improve the fiscal health of local governments.

AFT’s Farms Under Threat research shows that the Mid-Atlantic region will face significant loss of the region’s best farmland by 2040. Low Density Residential (LDR) development (large-lot housing development) specifically poses a serious threat to states in the region because of changing development patterns, especially those that shifted during the pandemic years as people moved out of cities. This will disproportionately impact the region’s most productive, versatile land, threaten the future for small and peri-urban farms and limit opportunities for new and beginning farmers.

As shifting farming patterns due to climate change take hold in some of the country’s traditional agricultural regions, including California and the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic farms will become even more important to protecting our nation’s food supply. Farm viability work and efforts to improve climate adaptation on the farm, including regenerative systems implementation, must be linked with regional farmland protection efforts to ensure farm resiliency in the face of climate change. Planning for agriculture across the region will be critical to securing a viable future for Mid-Atlantic farms.

Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Virginia will be four of the hardest hit states in the country in terms of farmland loss, according to FUT research.


Delaware faces the loss of 12.5 percent of its agricultural land under the ‘Business as Usual’ scenario – with almost 90 percent of that loss on nationally significant land. Under the ‘Better Built Cities’ scenario, Delaware can cut its farmland loss by 35 percent – especially important given the threat to its coastal farmland from sea level rise and saltwater intrusion.


Maryland is a national leader in land use policy and planning. Yet, Maryland’s Baltimore-Washington corridor counties are especially threatened by development. Wise choices in this area – especially key farm succession and viability efforts — can preserve farmland close to metro areas that often provides food to direct markets. Sea level rise is also a significant issue for the state’s waterfront farms, making it more important to continue and expand policy and planning strategies that preserve and protect productive farmland, especially on the Eastern Shore.  By choosing the Better Built Cities scenario instead of Runaway Sprawl, Marylanders can save 150,800 acres of farmland. That’s the equivalent of saving 1,200 farms, $117 million in farm output, and 2,800 jobs.


Virginia’s farms face intense development pressure both in the Washington DC area and in the southwest and south-central parts of the state. The ‘Runaway Sprawl’ scenario hits Virginia particularly hard, since increased LDR would mean a loss of more than 800,000 acres of farmland by 2040, the equivalent of 5,000 average sized farms. While some counties have initiated comprehensive planning that includes farmland preservation, financial and technical support at the state level for these efforts could help bring Virginia’s policy response more in line with its neighbors in the region.


Pennsylvania faces significant farmland loss in its south-central area around the Susquehanna River – where many vegetable farms are located. LDR is a significant issue for the state. If recent trends continue from 2016-2040, Pennsylvania will pave over, fragment, or compromise nearly 440,000 acres. Sixty five percent of the conversion will occur on Pennsylvania’s nationally significant farmland. Pennsylvania’s strong farmland preservation efforts need to continue and be matched with increased planning for agriculture supported at the state level to ensure a vibrant future for the Commonwealth’s farms.

“As much of the country becomes increasingly inhospitable due to rising temperatures and drought, the Mid-Atlantic is in a strong position to preserve much of its farmland due to its moderate climate, especially if farmers improve their climate adaptation practices,” said Jamie Mireau, AFT Mid-Atlantic Regional Director. “In addition, state and local planning and zoning for agriculture, including smart planning strategies designed to preserve farmland, is critical to ensure that the Runaway Sprawl scenario does not consume the region’s best land.”

For a brief summary of national results: National media release

Register for July 19, 2022, Maryland and Delaware Webinars here

Register for July 20, 2022, Virginia Webinar here

Register for July 13, 2022, Pennsylvania Webinar here


American Farmland Trust is the only national organization that takes a holistic approach to agriculture, focusing on the land itself, the agricultural practices used on that land, and the farmers and ranchers who do the work. AFT launched the conservation agriculture movement and continues to raise public awareness through our No Farms, No Food message. Since our founding in 1980, AFT has helped permanently protect over 6.8 million acres of agricultural lands, advanced environmentally-sound farming practices on millions of additional acres and supported thousands of farm families. 

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Michael Shulman

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