WASHINGTON, D.C. -- America's private farm and ranch land is a critical element to any strategy to protect America's Great Outdoors. Farms produce more than food, fiber and renewable fuels.

"Increasingly, our farm and ranch land is being pressed into service to address climate change, air and water pollution and energy concerns," says Jimmy Daukas, managing director of American Farmland Trust's Agriculture & Environment initiative. Daukas is participating in the White House Conference on America's Great Outdoors.

President Obama addressed the conference, announcing the America's Great Outdoors Initiative, and noted, "conservation is not contrary to economic growth" but an integral part of it.

"The President is absolutely right," Daukas said. "Environmental markets present new opportunities for American agriculture. We no longer say our nation's farms and ranches produce just bushels, bales, pecks, or a number of animals -- but now also miles per gallon, carbon offsets, water quality credits and wildlife habitat."

"But we must remember that farm and ranchland is the critical component when it comes to a healthy agriculture and food sector, and a healthy environment," Daukas says. "We can no longer assume that increased agricultural productivity per acre will makeup for the continued loss and fragmentation of our farmland, or offset the increasing demand on agricultural lands to provide these types of environmental benefits in addition to the basics of food and fiber."

Despite efforts to protect agricultural land, over one million acres of farm and ranch land in this country is lost to permanent conversion each year. Some of the potential benefits from farm and ranch land include:

  • Changes in agriculture practices and foresting of marginal agricultural lands could offset a significant amount of current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions;
  • Publicly owned water treatment works face $202.5 billion in mandated upgrades over the next 20 years, and agricultural lands could offset this need at fraction of the cost;
  • The ability to grow and provide food close to cities not only provides access to fresh, local foods but also could reduce both the energy needs and greenhouse gas emissions associated with shipping food long distances.

The ability to maintain a healthy agriculture sector and its benefits offers immediate challenges Daukas said.

"We're challenged by the loss of working lands due to poorly planned development, at a time when we are asking more and more from this land than simply the production of food and fiber."

"How much, what kind, and the location of agricultural lands will be needed to support our food, environment and energy future? And, what polices and programs should the federal government enact or expand to promote the contribution of agricultural lands to this future?" These are among the questions Daukas will raise at the Great Outdoors Conference.

"We need to clarify and understand the multiple demands on and the benefits provided by well-managed agricultural lands; determine the country's need for agricultural land as a national security asset in a sustainable green economy for food, ecosystem services, wildlife, energy and open space," Daukas said. "At this conference, and through the work of AFT, we can encourage the federal government to be an active partner and contributor to the efforts of private landowners, states and communities to secure and manage this resource base for future generations."

"AFT looks forward to working with the administration on the America's Great Outdoors initiative, and with the impressive group of stakeholders gathered for this White House conference," Daukas said.

SOURCE: American Farmland Trust.