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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Urban Sprawl Endangers U.S. Farmlands

WASHINGTON -- Urban sprawl is engulfing prime farmland so fast that the United States may be forced by the middle of the next century to import more food than it exports, a conservation group contends.

American Farmland Trust projected in a "worst-case scenario'' Thursday that with the U.S. population expected to jump 50 percent by 2050 and high-quality farmland projected to shrink 13 percent, the nation could become a net food importer within 60 years.

That probably would lead to difficulty in dealing with a host of social, economic, food security and environmental issues, said the report "Farming on the Edge.''

"The destruction of our best farmland by sprawl development reduces our agricultural efficiency, increases tensions between farmers and suburban neighbors, leads to higher tax burdens and puts greater pressure on less productive, more environmentally fragile lands here and around the world,'' said AFT President Ralph Grossi.

U.S. agricultural exports totaled a record $59.8 billion in the fiscal year that ended in September, and the Agriculture Department is forecasting total farm exports of $56.5 billion in the current fiscal year.

The Agriculture Department's natural resources conservation chief, Paul Johnson, would not say how accurate the report's projection was, but welcomed it as raising an important topic.

"It's something we should be very concerned about,'' Johnson said. "In my lifetime, the world population has doubled twice, and the next 25 years, there should be up to 8 billion people.''

USDA already is examining the threats to farmland, but Johnson said he did not disagree with the conservation group's request that it needs to quantify them.

The study found that between 1982 and 1992, 1.7 million hectares of prime farmland were overrun -- nearly 20 hectares every hour of every day. Every state shared in the loss.

The 20 most threatened regions produce 51 percent of the fruit and 39 percent of the vegetables grown in the United States. AFT said the federal government should strengthen, expand and enforce its farmland protection programs and change federal estate tax laws to encourage farm families to keep their property in agriculture. It also urged the government to quantify farmland by its agricultural importance and vulnerability to rapid urban development.

AFT urged local communities to analyze land development trends, agree on which farmland to save and adopt the necessary policy reforms.