Our Incredible Vanishing Resource

March 11, 2019 01:28 PM
By the time you’ve finished reading this article, we’ll have nine fewer acres of farmland

Some will argue the loss of farmland isn’t a big deal. Maybe we don’t need as much land as we used to because we’re more productive with the land we have, they say. Maybe vertical farms can supply our vegetables, and we can turn to labs to produce our meat. Or maybe we can just stop eating meat, wasting food and making ethanol, and the current amount of farmland will sustain us.

If these options don’t sound like reasonable solutions to you, John Piotti, president of American Farmland Trust, says we need to take action now. He spoke about conservation and farmland at the 2019 Trust in Food™ Symposium.

“Much of the land [we’ve lost] is our best land—the most versatile, resilient and productive,” Piotti says. “And it adds up. Losing the equivalent of all of the farmland in Iowa in 20 years is a big deal.”

And more compelling, he says, is this message: He’s not sure America can afford to lose a single acre. In fact, he’s not sure we have enough farmland today. Why?

“Because farmland is for far more than growing food,” Piotti says. “We all know farmland provides many essential environmental services, such as providing a home for wildlife, storing and purifying water, and sequestering carbon. Yet we also know farming, as currently practiced, causes some environmental degradation—notably water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.”

Conservation practices are essential, but so is profitability. Managing the land wisely, Piotti says, requires enough farmers and ranchers who know their land intimately and can afford to do what’s right by the land.

The bottom line, Piotti says, is we must retain enough farmland and manage it using the right practices.  

“But we cannot hope to retain all the farmland we need, nor manage it wisely, without enough farmers who have adequate know-how and financial resources,” he says.

Do We Have Enough Farmland Today?

John Piotti encourages farmers to ask themselves these questions:

  • How much farmland would we need if we were going to grow our food in a manner that didn’t involve any environmental degradation? How much land of what types would be needed?
  • How much more farmland would be needed, managed in which way, to go beyond carbon neutral to be a carbon sink?
  • How much more land will be needed as demand for food increases and as climate change reduces the suitability of other land to grow food?
  • How do these equations change when we think about U.S. agriculture as one part of a bigger global system?
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Spell Check

Rodney D Bohlender
Stinnett, TX
3/12/2019 06:42 AM

  I don't believe those numbers. We have the same acres of major crops every year, or more if we need them. I've found that anyone concerned about carbon in the atmosphere is either a liar or ignorant of reality so I don't take any of their other calculations seriously. This is just another example of a group of intellectual elitists trying to usurp private property rights. Private property rights and freedom is the only reason this great Country is prosperous. I'm not worried about developers taking my farmland away but I am worried about the Socialists taking it away. That's when people starve...when the Socialists get power. They get power by taking control of things they don't pay for. We are overproducing every commodity that I know of right now. What a wonderful country of plenty we live in. If you want more of something, just pay a little tiny bit more and you will get more than you asked for. If you want to keep good farmers on the land, just guarantee their private property rights, cut their taxes and regulations and you will get more production than you can imagine. If these "groups" would spend as much time and energy trying trying to insure private property rights as they do trying to drum up concern for things that don't exist so they can take your property away, maybe the Socialists wouldn't be knocking on our door. Oh yeah, they are the Socialists.

Lee M Kissinger
3/22/2019 03:11 PM

  Everyone is concerned about loosing the farmland we have, But address the problem at hand! Kid and families that can't be sustained by the land anymore! We are all just barely getting by. we are not keeping pace with anyone in any other business equipment is way to costly as well as any of our inputs and we are not given any respect if we say we are not getting enough or our cost of production we are complainers or want welfare payments! farmers have noting to work for when you are borderline going broke when you work like we do and have nothing left it isn't because we bought too much equipment cause a lot of us are not buying it is plain and simple fact we are given no chance to profit none why would anyone pursue this profession ? and the only thing they have of any value is the land you really give them no choice or at least an easy decision.

Corn Fused
Hooper, NE
3/12/2019 06:33 AM

  How do we plant record numbers of acres every year, according to our USDA?


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