According to survey results released Tuesday by American Farmland Trust, funding for ag land protection on the state level moved higher between 2011 and 2012, but remains 39% below 2008 levels.
While the latest survey shows a 19% funding increase from 2011 to 2012, and a priority on protecting farmland, state spending on environmental protection programs generally continues in a downward trend.
Andrew McElwaine, President and CEO of AFT, said the results indicate that state budgets have been rough on agricultural land protection programs over the past five years.
"If states had continued the same level of funding they had in 2008, we would have saved an additional 358,000 acres of agricultural land and purchased 2,000 additional farmland conservation easements," McElwaine said.
Eastern states active in protection efforts
Since 1979, state farm and ranch land programs have protected 2,373,470 acres of agricultural land by acquiring 13,450 easements and spending a total of over $3.6 billion.
According to the survey, states protected an additional 89,465 acres of agricultural land in 2012, acquiring 480 easements, and spent nearly $206 million.
AFT says Colorado, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey and Vermont lead the 27 states with active farmland protection programs in the number of acres protected.
In terms of the percentage of farmland protected, New Jersey leads other states with 27%, Delaware with 21%, Maryland with 18%, Massachusetts with 13% and Vermont with 11%.
New Jersey also leads other states in the most money spent for farmland protection, AFT says – $975.1 million, followed by Pennsylvania with $853 million, Maryland with $672.3 million, Massachusetts with $214.2 million and Colorado with $170.5 million.
And, last year, New York increased protection funding by $13 million and Washington State increased funding from $700,000 to $5.3 million.
"While there is some optimism in our survey, the United States has been losing one acre of farmland every minute to development," said McElwaine. "In the face of a global need to double food production by 2050, that is unacceptable. We believe state, local and national governments must step up to the plate and do more to protect land and keep farmers farming."
In particular, McElwaine cited increased funding for the federal Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program contained in the recently-passed budget.
The survey results are housed at the website for the Farmland Information Center, a joint project of AFT and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.