Lawmakers Learn about Loss of U.S. Farms and Farm Land

Some compelling testimony a few days ago before the Senate Ag Appropriations Subcommittee. testimony from Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“And I bring to the attention of the committee concerns that I have about the loss of farms and the loss of farmland.”

Losses, Vilsack says, are huge. He told lawmakers that since 1980,

“We’ve lost 544,970 Farms. Now to give you a sense of how many farms that is, that’s all the farms that exist today in North Dakota South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Missouri and Oklahoma. Along with the loss of farms, we lost 151 million acres of farmland that is land that was in farming that is no longer in farming. That is the entire landmass of Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Maryland, and a good part of Virginia. I don’t think anybody on this committee and I don’t think anybody in this Congress in the Senate or the House, or in this federal government believes that that’s an appropriate direction for agriculture.”

Which brought this question from North Dakota Senator John Hoeven.

“What’s most effective, in your opinion, to stem that tide?”

“I think it’s a combination, Senator. I think first and foremost, you obviously have to have a safety net to try to keep people on the farm, which goes to the loan programs goes to crop insurance and the risk management tools. But I think it’s also expanding markets. I think it’s important for these small and mid sized producers not to have a single commodity based income screen. I think they have to have a stream that’s climate related. I think they have to have a stream this ecosystem service related. I think we have to encourage more conversion of agricultural waste into a variety of products instead of over application in many parts of the country. I think we need to continue to strengthen our local and regional food system because they get a better bang for the buck. I think we need to continue to look at concentration and do what we can to provide more independently owned, maybe farmer own processing. So it’s a combination of safety net, and markets.”

Along with efforts to revitalize rural economies in general. Vilsack said that work is starting to bear fruit he said that according to a recent report…

“It appears that rural employment is now back to pre pandemic levels. The unemployment rate is at an historic low in rural America. And in fact, we’ve actually seen a reduction in counties that have been characterized as persistently poor. These are counties that have experienced poverty rate of 20% or more for over 30 years.”

Vilsack said 29 counties have dropped out of that list over the last year showing that efforts to rebuild rural economies are working.