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According to USDA estimates, more than 2 million acres of farmland are developed for urban and other nonagricultural uses each year. Nearly 30 percent of this acreage is considered prime farmland—farmland that has the soil quality, growing season, and moisture supply needed to sustain high yields when managed according to acceptable farming methods. Much of the farmland being lost lies in two of the nation’s major agricultural states, California and Florida, which account for much of the nation’s fruit and vegetable production. However, the land conversion process is occurring in every state to some degree. In Nebraska, thousands of acres of farmland are converted each year, with many of those acres representing prime farmland.
The conversion of farmland to urban uses can result in more than the loss of productive farmland from which to contribute to the national and global food supply. Conversion also can result in the loss of open space, scenic views, animal habitat, resting grounds for migratory birds, clean air, and water recharge areas. Moreover, when farmland conversion becomes pronounced in a particular geographic area, it can create uncertainty about the future of production agriculture in the area—thereby contributing to an escalating farm exodus and further disconnection of the society from the land and its food source.
Federal, state and local governments and various private groups have acted in hopes of slowing or preventing the loss of farmland. At the federal level, the 1981 Farmland Protection Policy Act, the 1990 Farms for the Future Act, and the 1996 Farmland Protection Program have all made steps in providing protection and supporting state and local farmland protection efforts. At the state level, all states have enacted right-to-farm laws, and 49 have enacted differential assessment property tax relief.
Local efforts to help protect farmland include the outright purchase of agricultural land, comprehensive growth management plans, agricultural zoning, the purchase of development rights, the transfer of development rights, and the use of conservation easements.