Recent shifts in commodity markets, pressure for urban sprawl, tighter public budgets and competition with other public benefits for protecting farmland suggest that states and communities must become more selective in identifying the farmland that is most important to protect. There are three basic categories when considering strategic characteristics of farmland to protect: agricultural, which makes the land strategic from a food production standpoint; environmental, strategic from the standpoint of protecting environmental quality and amenities valued by the public; economic, characteristics of farmland that are responsible for its contribution to the economy for reasons going beyond agriculture. A consensus-building process should be initiated in each state and locality where the development of farmland is a public concern. The objectives and priorities of new and established farmland protection programs should be based on the resulting consensus. USDA should take the lead in improving the capacity of the federal government to assist states and localities in identifying and protecting strategic farmland.