John Hardin Jr., Danville, knows what value American Farmland Trust brings to the table. He’s a member of the board of directors and currently vice chairman. What concerns him is that many other farmers and developers don’t seem to understand that despite the efforts of groups like AFT, loss of good farmland continues — in Indiana, across the Midwest and across the country.
You can get a feel for how much land is still at risk, and what AFT is trying to do about it, at its website, farmland.org.
Here are seven facts about farmland loss and possible solutions gleaned from investigating the AFT website. These seven facts just scratch the surface, but they help illustrate that even though it’s not front-page news, loss of farmland and improvement of the farmland that remains are still big issues.
1. Farmland is lost every hour somewhere in the U.S. How much is lost? How much would you guess? AFT says it’s 40 acres an hour. If you do the math, that’s just under 1,000 acres per day.
2. A large chunk of farmland has been lost to development since 1982. AFT was organized in 1980, Hardin notes. Despite the group’s efforts, farmland has continued to convert to development at an alarming rate. AFT estimates that since ’82, 24 million acres of farmland and ranchland have been developed. To put it in perspective, that’s roughly the equivalent of losing all the land in Indiana and Rhode Island since ’82.
3. A large portion of all development in the U.S. happened in the last three decades. Of all the developed land that exists in the U.S., AFT data says 37% of that land was developed over the past three decades. That means more than one-third of all developed land was lost in the last 30-plus years.
4. Conservation easement programs and other efforts have saved 5 million acres over 35 years. The folks at AFT estimate that the nonprofit group has helped protect 5 million acres of ag land from development since it began in 1980. Some 285,000 acres have been permanently protected in New England alone.
5. More than half of the states in the U.S. have programs to help protect farmland. Currently, 28 states have programs, according to AFT. However, Indiana is not on the list of states that spend funds to help protect farmland from development.
6. Farmland loss continues to be an issue in Indiana. One of the earliest reports on the amount of farmland being lost was completed by AFT in 1997, and was updated in 2002. AFT is currently preparing an even more exhaustive report to highlight the status of farmland loss in the U.S. Based on the 1997 report, from 1992 to 1997, Indiana ranked seventh among states losing the most farmland to development. Illinois was fifth on the list at that time.
7. About one-third of Indiana counties have at least some high-value farmland at risk to development. A map of Indiana showing where highly productive farmland exists in conjunction with highly developed areas indicates that about one-third of Indiana counties have at least a portion of the county where these conflicting interests intersect.