Farmland Concentration as a Barrier to Resilient Agriculture

Authors: Rafter Ferguson*, Union of Concerned Scientists - Washington, DC, Marcia DeLonge, Union of Concerned Scientists
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Land Use and Land Cover Change, Agricultural Geography
Keywords: farmland consolidation, farmland access, resilient agriculture, agrarian landscapes, simplification, political agroecology
Session Type: Paper
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The trend of farmland concentration experienced by the United States over the last century creates distinct political and ecological barriers to creating a resilient agricultural system. The trend represents the consolidation not only of the means of production, but also the power to influence the character of agrarian landscapes. Past research has demonstrated associations between increasing farm size, agricultural intensification, and the simplification of landscapes through monoculture cropping and removal of non-crop biodiversity. Further, research suggests that such ecologically simplified landscapes are generally more vulnerable to climate shocks like floods and droughts, lose more soil to erosion, sequester less carbon, and require more insecticides than diverse landscapes. At the same time, farmland concentration creates barriers to participation in agriculture: limiting access to land for new farmers and contributing to the fierce competitive pressures that large capital-intensive operations place on other farms. Little research, however, has directly addressed farmland concentration in the US and its connections with (1) landscape diversity and (2) farmland accessibility. This study addresses this gap through a national county-level analysis, using data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Census of Agriculture to characterize trends and hotspots in concentration between 1997 and 2017. We then analyze associations between concentration and county-level landscape diversity using data from the USDA Cropland Data Layer. Finally, we use data from sources such as the US Census to explore associations between farmland concentration and accessibility. Results are discussed in terms of the potential benefits of policy interventions to limit or reverse concentration.

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