Decreasing U.S. Farmland = Less Food, Higher Prices

When American settlers began migrating west to learn what else this magnificent country had to offer, they were transfixed by the variety of its beauty.

They were also soon amazed by the nation’s ability to produce healthy, nutritious food in abundance.

Much of this food would not only feed Americans. But also people in other countries. It was being grown in what became known as the heartland.

Recently, The Brookings Institution defined the U.S. heartland as 19 states. They include Illinois, Missouri, Nebraska, and Tennessee. Those 19 states contain a vast majority of the nearly 880 million acres of farmland in America.

4 Million Acres Lost Over 2 Years

880 million acres may seem like a lot. But there is an alarming trend happening in our country. Over the past nine years, U.S. farmland has decreased by more than 12 million acres.

That includes nearly 4 million acres lost over the past two years. That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The American Farmland Trust estimates we’re losing an average of 2,000 acres of farmland per day. That comes from its report titled, “Farms Under Threat: The State of the States.”

Let’s first take a look at why this is happening. Then we’ll examine what it means for the availability of food in our future.

Housing Developments Are the Culprit

The single biggest cause for the reduction in the number and size of American farms? Urbanization.

Our population is growing. It was recorded at 336 million last year. We could be at 373 million by 2053. That’s according to Congressional Budget Office projections.

Obviously, more food will be needed to feed this rapidly increasing population. And more homes are needed to house this growing number of people.

Developers know they can profit by building houses on land being used to grow crops. So, instead of increasing farmland to help feed people, we are reducing farmland to house them.

Food Insecurity Is Increasing

What does this mean for Americans? It doesn’t take a math major to figure out what more people plus less food equals.

Food security is defined as having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food. No wonder it’s dwindling.

And whenever demand is greater than supply, rising prices result. We don’t have to wait 30 years to see this play out. Food prices are already spiraling out of control.

The consumer price index has increased 5% the past year. And the food index is up even more – 8.5%. Folks on the low end of earnings are affected the most. If the only food they can afford lacks the vitamins and minerals they need, that’s what they’ll buy. 

North Carolina Losing Big

Let’s take a quick look at how this is affecting a few specific states. North Carolina could lose more farmland than any other state by 2040. So says the American Farmland Trust study.

Currently the state has about 8 million acres of farmland. But 20% of that land is expected to be developed – or be under development – within 16 years.

Steve Troxler is the North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner. He said this issue keeps him up at night.

“If we don’t have the natural resources, there’s no way we can produce the food supply we need,” he said. “Not only for North Carolina. But for the rest of the nation and the world.”

Tennessean Wonders Where Food Will Be

Tennessee has lost 1.5 million acres of farmland to development recently. That’s according to University of Tennessee data.

The decrease equates to the loss of six counties’ worth of pasture and forest land. In just four more years, the amount of farmland loss is expected to rise to 2 million acres.

As one Tennessee resident told a local TV station, “People need a place to live. And this is a great country to live in. But where are we going to get our food?”

That same resident said she understands why a lifelong farmer would want to cash out. By selling their land to developers. But every time it happens, the country suffers.

Re-zoning Affects Oregon Farms

Oregon is not considered part of the American heartland. But it has more than 35,000 farms and ranches. And over 15 million acres of farmland.

Unfortunately, those numbers have decreased over the past five years. The state has lost 4% of its farmland. And 5.5% of its farms and ranches.

The loss of more than 660,000 acres of farmland in Oregon occurred despite land use laws. The laws were intended to restrict development unrelated to agriculture on land zoned for farming. But re-zoning has nullified that.

Greg Holmes is the working lands program director for 1000 Friends of Oregon. He said, “There are people out there that are taking advantage of the different interpretations (of zoning laws) that are taking farmland out of production.”

What Can You Do?

The disturbing trend of U.S. farmland loss does not bode well for our future.

It means less nutritious food will be available to Americans. And what is available will continue to rise in price.

These factors make locking in long-lasting food at today’s prices so crucial. It’s the smart way to ensure a safe future for you and your family.

Don’t wait to make a decision you will never regret… or you might regret it.

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