The American Farmland Trust has just released its “Farms Under Threat 2040: Choosing and Abundant Future” report, an ambitious modeling effort to project how climate change and development will affect agricultural land, which clearly  demonstrates the need for smart growth and good land-use planning that encourages infill and redevelopment.

“Farms Under Threat 2040: Choosing and Abundant Future” represents a multi-year effort by the American Farmland Trust to document the status of and threats to the country’s agricultural lands while offering real policy solutions to save that land. The report projects the outcome of several different approaches to land use for the years 2016-2040 adjusted for population growth and projected coastal flooding:

  • Business As Usual: The current trajectory of conversion of agricultural land trends continues on the current trajectory and results in the proliferation of low-density sprawl where farms are rapidly lost and fragmented.
  • Runaway Sprawl: New development is very inefficient, and low-density sprawl dominates the landscape with very few farms remaining near cities.
  • Build Better Cities: Communities choose efficient growth, and new development is denser and more livable with many more farms remain. 

The Build Better Cities scenerio is one that adheres to smart growth ideals and implements infill and redevelopment policies, and it has the best projected outcomes.

The “Farms Under Threat” report also includes a look at the same scenerios state by state. It projects that if recent trends continue, Maryland stands to lose 178,000 acres of farmland by 2040 – a whopping 8% – and 67% of that conversion will occur on Maryland’s Nationally Significant land. That is the equivalent of losing 1,400 farms, $144 million in farm output, and 3,200 jobs. The report also names Frederick, Howard, and Montgomery as the hardest hit counties.

Fortunately, this devestating result is not a foregone conclusion. In the face of the dire projections if development continues at current rates, the report advances the follow policy recomendations to protect and retain farmland:

  1. Embrace smart-growth principles to improve land-use planning,
  2. Permanently protect agricultural land to secure a supply of land in perpetuity,
  3. Advance smart solar to boost both renewable energy and farm viability, and
  4. Support equitable farmland access to create opportunities for a new generation of farmers, particularly historically marginalized producers

This report shows clearly that Maryland’s policymakers and land-use planners must act to promote compact development and reduce sprawl. Smart Growth Maryland has long advocated for such policy and, armed with the findings of this report, will continue to do so.

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