Competitive Enterprise Institute | 1899 L ST NW Floor 12, Washington, DC 20036 | Phone: 202-331-1010 | Fax: 202-331-0640
Washington, DC, July 27, 1998 – For years environmental organizations have called for curbs on the growth and development of cities and suburbs in order to preserve habitat and open space. In recent years however, calls for halting development have been heard for another reason -- preserving farmland. According to a new study released by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the reasons for calling for the preservation of farmland are largely mythical.
The single most vocal organization calling for the preservation of farmland is the American Farmland Trust (AFT), a tax-exempt Washington, D.C. organization. The AFT claims that the U.S. is losing one million acres of farmland a year. More importantly, the AFT claims that this loss threatens the food and fiber producing capacity of the nation. To address this purported threat, the AFT calls for agriculture protection zoning, growth management laws, and conservation easements, among other land use controls.
"Hard evidence compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), however, clearly demonstrates that there is sufficient land available for agriculture," says James D. Riggle coauthor of the study, "there is no threat whatsoever to the nation’s food producing capacity."
One striking example is the change in the amount of cropland in the U.S. over the last 50 years. In 1945, the USDA reported that there were slightly more than 450 million acres of cropland in the nation. By comparison, in 1992 there were nearly 460 million acres of cropland. In other words, 24 percent of the U.S. was considered cropland in 1945, and 24 percent was used as cropland in 1992; a net change of zero.
The U.S. is in no danger of running out of cropland or food. The study concludes that current market forces are more than enough to ensure the continuing production of all the food that the country needs. There is no reason to implement restrictive government actions in the face of these imaginary threats.
"If the U.S. isn’t losing farm land why are groups advocating restrictive measures to protect it?" asks Riggle.
CEI is a non-profit, non-partisan research and advocacy institute dedicated to the principles of free markets and limited government. For more information, or to obtain a copy of the study, contact Emily McGee at 202-331-1010.