There’s nothing indirect about the land use changes reported in the most recent summary from USDA, which shows that the only land use in the United States that is declining is cropland.
According to the report, “Major Uses of Land in the United States 2007,” the amount of land in the United States devoted to growing crops declined by 34 million acres – or nearly 8 percent – between 2002 and 2007. At 408 million acres, total cropland was at its lowest level since records were started in 1945.
Cropland accounted for 18 percent of the total land area in the country – the third largest land use behind forest (30%) and grassland (27%) – both of which increased over the same five-year period while cropland declined.
The smallest total use of land in the U.S. is urban, at 61 million or 3 percent. However, while urban land use accounts for the smallest percentage, the USDA report shows that it accounts for the biggest increase in land use, quadrupling between 1945 and 2007, increasing at about twice the rate of population growth over the period. Urban land use increased almost 2 percent from 2002 to 2007.
The report is significant because it shows with actual data that cropland acres declined at the same time ethanol production was increasing – which means no direct or indirect land use change as a result of corn being used for ethanol. Instead, Renewable Fuels Association (RFA) president Bob Dinneen said what the report does show is how farmers are producing more on less land, while urban land uses increase.
“It is ironic that the land use debate has fixated on biofuels, when the actual culprit of land conversion has clearly been urban and suburban sprawl,” Dinneen said. “Subdivisions full of mini-mansions, big box stores, shopping malls, and parking lots are encroaching on productive farmland across the country.”