We Are Losing the Most Vital Commodity of All: Farmland

photo of farmland

With each passing year, we learn more and more about our impact on the environment and the depletion of many of our vital resources. As we learn more, individuals are looking to do what they can to reduce their impact and lessen their burden on our planet.

From solar-powered garage doors to recycled electronics, it has never been easier to reduce your impact and vote with your dollars for the economic future you want to see.

However, there is one commodity that is rapidly on the decline that truly does threaten our very way of life. That is the loss of arable land on which to grow our food.

The massive influx of people from rural areas to cities has literally changed our modern landscape. Most of us don’t think much about farming or farm land, and yet, as the ubiquitous bumper sticker proclaims, “no farmers, no food.” On a more basic level, it would be more appropriate to say “no farmland, no food”.

And that is a situation that we are currently facing. We are losing arable, farmable land on a massive scale and it cannot be easily replaced. It takes, literally, hundreds of years for a single inch of top soil (the layer of the soil that roots grow into and where the nutrients that feed our crops lie) to form.

There are a number of contributing factors to the loss of a massive amount of the world’s arable land. First of all, there is the very way in which we farm. Farming used to require a good deal of understanding about the local land, soil quality, crop variety, and climate.

Now, farming is a very stringent, process-driven activity that does not rely on nature to provide for many crops these days. Rather, heavy equipment is used to plant homogenized seeds that are fed with chemical fertilizers and protected from pests through the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides. These activities rape the soil of its nutrients, leaving sandy, infertile dirt that easily blows away on a windy day.

The change in population densities in rural versus urban areas is also part of the problem. As more and more people move to cities and urban areas, more land must be developed to house and provide the necessary resources of city life for the new inhabitants.

This often means sacrificing fertile land for the subdivision. This fertile land is something that will take generations to replace and yet we are using it up with tract housing and unsustainable farming techniques at an alarming rate. This news about the decline of arable land should make us all pause and remember, “no farmland, no food.”

image credit: storm crypt

  1. Steve savage

    Farmland And soil are indeed critical but your then vs now characterization of farming is woefully oversimplified. Pre-industrial farming and farming in the 1930s was actually often as bad for soil as you described. modern methods like no-till are far better.

  2. Richard

    In California we have the Williamson Act that attempts to prevent large scale subdivision and commercial complexes from replacing valuable farm land. This is done by giving farmers a break on property taxes, in effect paying farmers to hold onto ag land. However, since California’s budget crisis has erupted, less and less money has been set aside for California to reimburse counties for the lost tax revenue. Therefore, more counties are unfortunately choosing to opt out of the program, and therefore farmers are forced to sell their land to commercial developers. Sad, but true. It is alarming to see valuable farmland in California being paved over to accommodate commerical development. At this rate we will continue to import more and more of our food from foreign countries. The writing is on the wall, and doesn’t bode well for future ag production in our own country.

  3. Steven Earl Salmony

    Petition Presentation, Town of Chapel Hill, NC, November 21, 2011.

    Opening remarks…….

    In Chapel Hill and around the world, it is all the same: many too many people can be found in too many places destroying the natural world for personal economic gain. Many human-induced pressures on Earth’s finite resources and its frangible ecology, that directly result from the unbridled global growth of overconsumption, overproduction and overpopulation activities by the human species, put demands on the natural world that can overwhelm any efforts to achieve a sustainable future for children, not only in Chapel Hill but elsewhere on the surface of our planetary home. If we are to halt the reckless destruction of Earth as a viable resource base as well as the irreversible degradation of an already polluted environment and a warming climate, we must accept limits to growth.

    We must start somewhere soon to chart a sustainable course. Endless economic and population growth appear to be unsustainable. Let us consider now and here ways we can humanely, fairly, equitably and realistically define limits to economic and population growth in Chapel Hill, while there is still time to do so. Once the comfortable and friendly size of Chapel Hill is lost due to economic and population growth pressures, Chapel Hill’s quality of life and special characteristics will be impossible to regain.

    Perhaps we can “think globally” about the predicament seven billion human beings present to the viability of Earth as a fit place for human habitation. Then we choose to”act locally” in ways that move us in the direction of a sustainable future for children everywhere and for life as we know it. Thank you.


    A Petition to Define Limits to Economic and Population Growth in the Town of Chapel Hill, NC

    Whereas the Town of Chapel Hill appears to be outgrowing the comfortable and friendly size that has made it a wonderful place to live, raise children, work and retire; and
    Whereas increasing traffic congestion, crime and other social ills are presenting worrisome trends that result from human population growth which will eventually degrade Chapel Hill’s eco-friendly environs, deplete its limited natural resources and conceivably ruin what makes our town beautiful and special; and
    Whereas the Town of Chapel Hill has established limits and the Great State of North Carolina has boundary lines that separate it from adjacent states; and
    Whereas the USA has borders that confirm the limits of authorized human activity under its regulations and laws as well as distinguish itself as a separate nation; and
    Whereas Earth is round, bounded and finite with frangible environs not flat, unbounded and unperturbed by human production, consumption and population activities of the human species worldwide; and
    Whereas there are well-known biological and physical “rules of the house” in our planetary home that are categorically different from the manmade laws which regulate day to day production, consumption and population activities of human species, but are no less important to citizens of Chapel Hill, the State of NC and the USA as well as to the global citizenry of the human family, precisely because the biophysical reality of God’s Creation places immutable limits on the unbridled global growth of human overproduction, overconsumption and overpopulation activities; and
    Whereas a billion human beings were added to family of humanity worldwide in the last dozen years (1999 to 2011); and
    Whereas in the month of October 2011 the seven billionth human being joined the human community; and
    Whereas there are more human beings in November 2011 existing on resources valued at less than two dollars per day globally than were alive on Earth in the year of my birth (2.3+ billion in March 1945); and
    Whereas we have heard many times, understood well enough, and can reasonably be expected to at least consider acting in a morally responsible way upon a shibboleth of humanity that goes like this, “Think globally, act locally,”

    Now, Therefore, It appears appropriate to Propose and Present this brief Summary of a Program for Action.

    As a part of the town-wide envisioning process to consciously and deliberately manage economic and population growth in the Town of Chapel Hill between now and 2020, leaders, planners and stakeholders will assure that the maintenance of the unique character and the quality of life in Chapel Hill, as we enjoy it now, is protected and preserved for the children and future generations. To accomplish this goal, various scenarios or different elements of a single scenario will be developed with the hope that the following steps will be examined for their efficacy.

    Because overpopulation is ultimately a local issue, set an optimum/maximum population size for the Town of Chapel Hill in 2020. This goal can be fulfilled by adopting growth-management policies related to limits on the number of new residential dwelling units and to additional eco-friendly curbs on commercial developments per year between now and 2020. Zoning regulations can be promulgated to further restrict the size of residential, commercial and industrial buildings within the town limits. The reality-oriented adoption of “soft caps” on economic and population growth will make it possible for the Town of Chapel Hill to sensibly acknowledge and adequately address the considerable and potentially unsustainable growth pressures that are readily visible on our watch.

    Steven Earl Salmony

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