By Jon Scholl

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In recent weeks, two of the greatest challenges facing America’s farmers have received much attention in the popular press. We have learned that world agriculture will have to feed a population of over 10 billion by the end of the century – no small potatoes. We have also seen evidence of how severely agricultural production will be affected by rapidly changing environmental conditions and extreme weather events brought on by global climate change. Together, this is a truly daunting prospect.

Our policymakers must address these issues sooner rather than later, and it just so happens to be farm bill season.

While the critical needs of research, trade and international development seem to get most of the attention as key aspects of this growing concern (bad pun intended), we must keep in mind the difficulty we’ll have in addressing this growing concern if too much of our farmland sprouts roads, malls and houses instead of food.

I know farmers like to talk acreage, so let me share some numbers to get you thinking. Because I’m convinced that we can’t meet the world’s growing hunger for food, and help solve environmental concerns, if we don’t pay greater attention to farmland loss numbers.

First, we are not only losing farmland, we’re losing our best farmland for agricultural production.

In the last 25 years, we've lost more than 23 million acres of farm and ranch land - an area roughly the size of Indiana.

  (link is )

Even my home state of Illinois, traditionally an agriculture production stronghold, was one of America’s greatest losers, ranking seventh in the loss of farmland from 2002 to 2007. 

Americans tend to equate development with progress in the form of new stores, new roads, new campuses, and more. The problem is that we’re not managing where and how we grow our communities.

We’re building on the farmland best suited for growing fruits and vegetables—land on the urban fringe. The farmland closest to our cities is often the most productive, and it's also the most threatened.

Coupled with the need to safeguard our nation’s food supply is the need to support farmland’s contributions to the health of our environment. In addition to supplying food, fiber, and biofuels, farmland is a tremendous natural resource, providing filters for groundwater, clean air, wildlife habitat, and greenhouse gas sequestration.

We have much work to do to support on-farm stewardship of the land. Congress recently cut conservation funding by over half a billion dollars in this year’s House budget, and proposed slashing key conservation programs another 20 percent or more in 2012 budget.  Not to mention, there’s talk that the Biden group currently negotiating a plan to address the budget deficit will look at agriculture spending.

These budget actions could have a great impact on key conservation and farmland protection programs just as legislators will work out the details of the 2012 Farm Bill.

Certainly there are ways to enhance conservation programs and policies to achieve the greatest public benefit for every dollar spent, but with programs that are chronically under-funded our first priority must be to secure the resources needed to engage as many farmers as possible in this critical work.

This will be a heavy lift for policymakers in the deficit-conscious times now and in the farm bill discussions.

We the citizen-farmers must also do our part to protect farm and ranch land.

Farmers and ranchers manage nearly half the land in the United States. When we take this land out of farming, we threaten our ability to grow the food we need—indeed our national security—remove billions of dollars from our local and national economies, and sacrifice increasingly important environmental benefits.

It’s time to make our voices heard that healthy working farmland is key to agricultural viability and even more essential to growing the solutions to some of the biggest challenges U.S. agriculture and our nation face.  

[link is to article by Howard Buffett on global resources: ]


Jon Scholl is the President of American Farmland Trust and is a partner in a family farm in McLean County, Illinois. American Farmland Trust is the nation’s leading conservation organization dedicated to saving America’s farm and ranch land, promoting environmentally sound farming practices and supporting a sustainable future for farms. Since its founding in 1980 by a group of farmers and citizens concerned about the rapid loss of farmland to development, AFT has helped save millions of acres of farmland from development and led the way for the adoption of conservation practices on millions more.

AFT’s national office is located in Washington, DC. Phone: 202-331-7300. For more information, visit

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