The most recent National Resources Inventory, a survey of U.S. non-federal lands conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, has revealed that every state lost agricultural land to development between 1982 and 2007 — more than 23 million acres in all.
According to the survey, the five states to lose the most land were Texas, California, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. The states that developed the largest percentage of their land were New Jersey (26.8%), Rhode Island (22.5%), Massachusetts (18.1%), Delaware (14.3%) and New Hampshire (13.2%). Further, 44% more of the land converted was considered prime agricultural land than not, raising concerns among experts. "Many of the numbers from the NRI that we’ve analyzed are sobering,” said Jon Scholl, president of American Farmland Trust.
Still, said Scholl, there are a few bright spots, such as a decline in the nationwide rate of farmland loss over the 25-year reporting period, despite a booming housing market during portions of that timeframe. “This overall decline is likely due to smart growth policies that encourage more efficient development,” said Julia Freedgood, AFT's managing director of farmland protection. “The NRI data show that the threat to our agricultural resources is real. But we were heartened to find that policies to encourage more efficient development work — slowing farmland loss and buying time. Smart growth coupled with permanent farmland protection programs ensures that in the face of growth agricultural land will be available to produce food for our nation and a growing world population.”