Farms and ranches are local businesses. They support local economies through sales of farm goods, job creation, support services and businesses, and by creating secondary markets such as food processing and distribution. The Census of Agriculture provides a wealth of information about agricultural production by geographic region, including the numbers of agricultural operations and gross sales generated. The total economic contribution of the agricultural sector can be estimated using economic impact analysis. One economic modeling system is IMPLAN.
Farmers manage nearly half of the land in the lower 48 states. It is in their interests to be good stewards of the land. In turn, well-managed agricultural land provides food and cover for wildlife. Farm and ranch land helps control flooding, absorbs and filters stormwater, and allows for groundwater recharge. It has the potential to sequester carbon and to provide off-site mitigation for development projects offsetting negative environmental impacts.
Farm and ranch lands typically generate more in local revenues than they demand in community services. Cost of Community Services (COCS) studies are a case study approach used to determine the net fiscal contribution of local land uses. COCS studies have shown that farmland and open space more than pays its own way and helps balance local budgets.
Nationwide, there is growing demand for locally-grown food. Food production, depends on the availability of farm and ranch land. Therefore, advocates for local food systems must also work to protect agricultural land and take steps to keep the land in active production.
Scenic and Recreational
Working farms help define the landscape and attract tourists to rural communities. Communities' cropland, pastures and woodlands, barns and stone walls provide community identity and character. Open space provided by farms offers opportunities for recreation.
Despite its importance, agricultural land is at risk. It is ripe for development because it tends to be flat, well drained, and open. As development encroaches on farmland it increases the costs and risks of production and drives up land values beyond the reach of agricultural producers. The National Resources Inventory is one source for agricultural land conversion data. For conversion figures by state, visit our statistics area.