Have Planted Crop Acres Peaked in the U.S.?


The surburbanization and exurbanization of the United States are closely linked to an ever-marching retreat of farmland, according to a study by the American Farmland Trust (AFT). Clearly, we need to think through the implications to the integrity of local and regional food systems as development encroaches. We also need to recognize the impact to farmers, from the ability to acquire more land in the face of scarcity, farmer flexibility to sell to whom they choose, and even the planting decisions that will be more crucial in the face of growing demand. (A good example of changing demand is movement toward renewable diesel and the resulting anticipated surge in soybean demand as detailed in a recent TFM Insight “Crushing Expectations: The Explosion in Demand for Soybean Oil,” May 2023.) As a first step, however, let’s explore where acreage stands today and what the future holds.


Recent Trends in Principal Crop Acres Planted


Per USDA data, the last time that acres planted for U.S. principal crops hit 339 million acres was in 2012. Since 2014, acres planted have fluctuated between 303 and 327 million acres. Even with the high commodity price incentive over the last two years, acres planted to principal crops have not been able to break above the 318-million-acre level.

Source: USDA, Agriculture Statistics Briefing, March 31, 2023


Over the past 20 years, the USDA data also shows a shift in the types of crops planted. In particular, corn and soybeans have seen an increase in acres planted, while wheat and cotton have seen a decrease. In 2023, corn and soybeans are expected to account for approximately 179.5 million acres, or over half of all principal crop acres.

Source: USDA, Agriculture Statistics Briefing, March 31, 2023


Where Have All the Acres Gone?


In their study “Farms Under Threat,”* the AFT first attempts to track what happened to lost agricultural land between 2001 and 2016 using spatial mapping analysis. This is the first nationwide attempt to identify the impacts of distributed, large-lot housing development on the agricultural land base. Their analysis identifies that agricultural land is increasingly being converted, fragmented, or paved over to support development. Of special concern, the report notes, is the loss of farmland to low-density residential development at the edge of urban and suburban areas.

According to the AFT study, 11 million acres of farmland were paved over – that’s 2,000 acres per day – fragmented or converted to uses that jeopardize agriculture. In terms of impact, 11 million acres equates to the amount of acres devoted to fruit, nut, and vegetable production in 2017. It also equates to the estimated acreage needed to fuel the upcoming surge in soybean demand for renewable diesel. Not surprisingly, the pace of development has increased in recent years, with an average loss of 449,000 acres annually between 2011 and 2016 compared to 340,000 acres annually between 2001 and 2006.

The second part of the AFT study models potential agricultural land development scenarios from 2016 to 2040. In their Business-as-Usual scenario, they estimate an additional 18.4 million acres will be converted away from productive agriculture from 2016 to 2040. This suggests U.S. principal crop acres could fall below the 300-million-acre level in the next 20 years.

*Sources: Farmers Under Threat: the State of the States study and Executive Summary


What Can Farmers Do?


As we look toward the future of agriculture in the United States, it will be important to continue monitoring trends in principal crop acres and the impact of development on farmland. Finding a balance between economic development and preserving agricultural land will be a critical challenge for policymakers and stakeholders in the years to come. Just as importantly, now is the time to think through the implications to you and your community.

• Is it time to speak to leaders about zoning to protect farmland?

• How can policy support farmers as the cost to buy land increases and the pressure from developers increases to capitalize on good prices?

• What is the position of your industry organizations and do they align with your values? How can you motivate them to start taking action on your behalf?

Ultimately, farming is a business—a business centered on community and family. As scarcity brings more constriction, how will you protect your interests and the interests of people inheriting your legacy?


We’re Here to Help


At Total Farm Marketing, our consultants keep an eye on the markets and inputs that affect the markets. That includes being on top of industry drivers that impact the market, your operation, and ultimately the price you receive for your hard-earned work. Look to us to help you make the most of your operation.


If you have questions on how we can help, reach out to one of our consultants at

800.334.9779 or visit us at TotalFarmMarketing.com.




©May 2023. Futures and options trading involve significant risk of loss and may not be suitable for everyone. Therefore, carefully consider whether such trading is suitable for you in light of your financial condition. Total Farm Marketing and TFM refer to Stewart-Peterson Group Inc., Stewart-Peterson Inc., and SP Risk Services LLC. Stewart-Peterson Group Inc. is registered with the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) as an introducing broker and is a member of National Futures Association. Stewart-Peterson Inc. is a publishing company. SP Risk Services LLC is an insurance agency and an equal opportunity provider. SP Risk Services LLC and Stewart-Peterson Inc. are wholly owned by Stewart-Peterson Group Inc. A customer may have relationships with all three companies. TFM360 is a service of Stewart-Peterson Group Inc., Stewart-Peterson Inc., and SP Risk Services LLC.


Keegan Madigan

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