Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Growing Threats to World's Farmland

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Growing Threats to World's Farmland

Article excerpt

FLOODING in the Midwest is wiping out considerable amounts of prime farmland. Thousands - maybe millions - of acres are being lost to agricultural purposes as tons of topsoil wash down the Mississippi and other rivers, and flood-caused pollution ruins more. It's one more reason to remember the value of land stewardship in America's heartland.

The deluge and its aftermath also are cause to think about the overall state of farmland in the United States and elsewhere, and the things that impact it aside from "natural" disasters. The picture, according to recent data, is not encouraging.

American Farmland Trust, a conservation organization headed by farmer Ralph Grossi, recently named the most threatened agricultural regions in the US. "The Top 12 on the Edge," as they're called, are: California's Central Valley, south Florida, California's coastal region, the Mid-Atlantic/Chesapeake areas, North Carolina's Piedmont, the Puget Sound Basin, the Chicago-Milwaukee-Madison metro area, Oregon's Willamette Valley, the Twin Cities metro area, western Michigan, the Shenandoah and Cumberland valleys, and the Hudson River and Champlain valleys.

These dozen areas account for just 5 percent of all US farmland. But according to the Department of Agriculture, they produce 17 percent of gross US agriculture sales, including 67 percent of the nation's fruit crops, 55 percent of its vegetables, and 24 percent of its dairy products. In other words, a great deal of the country's farm bounty.

But these areas also are in or right next to counties with the highest population growth rates. The biggest threat is suburban sprawl. For example, between 1970 and 1990, population in the Chicago area grew a bit more than 4 percent, but residential land used jumped 46 percent as 450 square miles of farmland were converted to nonfarm use. The Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission figures another 220 square miles may be lost by 2010.

Taken together, all such "urban edge" agricultural land in the US (in addition to the Top 12) accounts for 56 percent of gross farm sales. Meanwhile, permanent conversion eats up 2 million acres a year in the United States. …

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