Fresh Food

Why Our Farms Are Disappearing

Development is taking over land used to grow commodity crops

lempert report

The American Farmland Trust has some unsettling news: American farmland is being vacuumed up by development. 

What’s new is the discovery that the development isn’t coming only from urban areas expanding outwards—rural areas are also losing farmland rapidly. “The fact is that we have this sort of insidious development that no one’s been paying attention to, and we really need to start paying attention,” says Julia Freedgood, the assistant VP of programs at the AFT.

The most unsettling part of their findings is why this is happening: that farming is an incredibly difficult and not a very lucrative career path. The average age of the American farmer was nearly 60 in 2012 (the time of the last census). As those farmers retire or pass away, successive generations turn elsewhere for jobs, and the land goes fallow and is sold off. 

Another reason: It’s sometimes simply worth more to sell farmland rather than actually farm the land, especially if that farmland is near a city or town. 

The top line is that today farmland produces food, so less farmland means the price of food may rise. The majority of American farmland is devoted to commodity crops—soy, corn, wheat—and many of the uses of those crops are not for direct eating. Much of it, though, is used for animal feed, and if the price of animal feed goes up, so goes the price of meat. 

There was 31 million acres of U.S. farmland lost to development, in total, from 1992 to 2012. Additionally, the U.S. lost 11 million acres of America’s best agricultural land—land with superior soil conditions and weather for growing food—from 1992 to 2012. 

Just another reason why it's critical that we fast-track vertical farming.

To learn more, read the full “Farms Under Threat” report, and you can also use that link to sign up for updates on the project from the AFT.


More from our partners