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States with the most farmland

  • States with the most farmland

    With more than 329 million American mouths to feed and about $136.7 billion worth of agricultural exports, American farms need plenty of land to grow and produce crops. Thanks to widespread mechanization, American farms are some of the most productive on earth, fetching high yields of the top five crops: corn, soybeans, alfalfa, and cotton.  Livestock plays a vital role, too, with 2 million American farms raising billions of cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens.

    America’s shift to high-yield, mechanized farming—which kicked into hyper-drive during World War II when the country needed vast quantities of fats, oils, and meals for herself and her allies—forever changed the makeup of American agriculture. Family farms folded in the face of massive factory farms: In 1870, over 50% of the population was employed in agriculture, a number that has since dwindled to 1.3% in 2019. Historically intensive land use depleted topsoil, spread non-native weeds, and aided deforestation, which led to federal legislation protecting wildlands and subsidizing efficient agricultural practices.

    The U.S. has about 2 million farm households, but which American regions have the most acreage devoted to farming? Stacker analyzed the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Major Land Uses Survey, then ranked each state and the District of Columbia based on the number of acres each has dedicated to farmland. For further context, each slide also provides total cropland acreage, cropland used for crops, idle cropland, and cropland used for pasture. Top crops are from USDA state agriculture overviews as of Oct. 14, 2020.

    The 2012 MLU data is the latest available from the series, which has been published since 1945—Alaska and Hawaii were added in 1959 when they became states. The USDA reports that the Major Land Uses series is the “longest-running, most comprehensive accounting of all major uses of public and private land in the United States.”

    Read on to discover where the ingredients for your family’s next meal may have been grown or raised.

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  • #50. Rhode Island

    - Total cropland: 25,000 acres
    - Cropland as a percent of all state land: 3.8% (#10 lowest among all states )
    - Cropland used for crops: 19,000 acres
    - Idle cropland: 4,000 acres
    - Cropland pasture: 2,000 acres
    - Most valuable crops produced: hay & haylage ($1.2 million), corn

    A lack of affordable farmland is threatening Rhode Island’s agricultural sector. The state is trying to help make expensive farmland more accessible to would-be farmers, whether through the Farmland Preservation Program, state-sponsored leasing opportunities, or state-purchased farms.

  • #49. Alaska

    - Total cropland: 79,000 acres
    - Cropland as a percent of all state land: 0.0% (#1 lowest among all states )
    - Cropland used for crops: 31,000 acres
    - Idle cropland: 45,000 acres
    - Cropland pasture: 4,000 acres
    - Most valuable crops produced: hay & haylage ($10.2 million), barley ($1.0 million)

    The Alaska Farmland Trust is working to keep farmland in the hands of farmers. According to the trust, 95% of the food eaten in Alaska comes from the lower 48 states, and one in five Alaskans is food insecure. Since becoming a land trust in 2006, the nonprofit organization has protected 160 acres.

  • #48. New Hampshire

    - Total cropland: 93,000 acres
    - Cropland as a percent of all state land: 1.6% (#4 lowest among all states )
    - Cropland used for crops: 73,000 acres
    - Idle cropland: 18,000 acres
    - Cropland pasture: 2,000 acres
    - Most valuable crops produced: hay & haylage ($13.6 million), maple syrup ($6.7 million)

    New Hampshire, which has seen a resurgence in farming, is working to both preserve farmland and to help make farms profitable. It passed a law in 2016 redefining agritourism for weddings, corn mazes, wine tastings, and other activities for the public. It also pays farmers who agree to restrictions on the land in the form of conservation easements, among other incentives.

  • #47. Connecticut

    - Total cropland: 123,000 acres
    - Cropland as a percent of all state land: 4.0% (#11 lowest among all states )
    - Cropland used for crops: 104,000 acres
    - Idle cropland: 9,000 acres
    - Cropland pasture: 9,000 acres
    - Most valuable crops produced: hay ($13.5 million), corn

    In the 1940s, Martin Luther King Jr. spent two summers working in the shade tobacco fields around Simsbury, outside of Hartford. At the time, shade tobacco—tobacco grown under shade in the Connecticut River valley—was one of the state’s main cash crops. Foreign competition and costs have threatened the crop.

  • #46. Massachusetts

    - Total cropland: 148,000 acres
    - Cropland as a percent of all state land: 3.0% (#8 lowest among all states )
    - Cropland used for crops: 130,000 acres
    - Idle cropland: 14,000 acres
    - Cropland pasture: 5,000 acres
    - Most valuable crops produced: cranberries ($59.0 million), hay & haylage ($19.1 million)

    Cranberries are one of three fruits native to North America that are grown commercially, the others being blueberries and Concord grapes. Cranberry farming originated on Cape Cod in the mid-1800s. With more than 14,000 acres, Massachusetts is second in the country in cranberry production, behind Wisconsin.

     

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  • #45. Hawaii

    - Total cropland: 372,000 acres
    - Cropland as a percent of all state land: 9.1% (#17 lowest among all states )
    - Cropland used for crops: 161,000 acres
    - Idle cropland: 189,000 acres
    - Cropland pasture: 22,000 acres
    - Most valuable crops produced: coffee ($54.3 million), macadamias ($48.8 million), papayas ($4.9 million), avocados ($1.8 million)

    Sugar cane and pineapple, crops for which Hawaii was once famous, became victims of cheaper foreign labor and expensive real estate. The Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar Co., the state’s last sugar grower, shut down in 2016. Now, GoFarm Hawaii, a program developed in 2012 with the University of Hawaii and partly funded with state and federal grants, is helping create new farmers and more sustainable farms.

  • #44. Maine

    - Total cropland: 390,000 acres
    - Cropland as a percent of all state land: 2.0% (#5 lowest among all states )
    - Cropland used for crops: 328,000 acres
    - Idle cropland: 55,000 acres
    - Cropland pasture: 8,000 acres
    - Most valuable crops produced: potatoes ($184.1 million), hay & haylage ($38.8 million), blueberries ($26.0 million), maple syrup ($14.7 million), oats ($4.9 million)

    The Maine Farmland Trust formed to protect farms and support farmers. As of January 2019, it had protected 60,000 acres of farmland. It is developing new markets and helping more Maine families get access to local food. In the next 10 years, as many as 400,000 acres of farmland could come up for sale or lease.

  • #43. Vermont

    - Total cropland: 412,000 acres
    - Cropland as a percent of all state land: 7.0% (#13 lowest among all states )
    - Cropland used for crops: 379,000 acres
    - Idle cropland: 19,000 acres
    - Cropland pasture: 15,000 acres
    - Most valuable crops produced: hay & haylage ($157.4 million), maple syrup ($58.0 million)

    The Intervale Center in Burlington was created to “strengthen community food systems.” Founded in 1988, its staff helps with business planning and works with young farmers. Only about 15% of Vermont’s farms have an operator who is 35 or younger.

  • #42. Delaware

    - Total cropland: 438,000 acres
    - Cropland as a percent of all state land: 35.1% (#11 highest among all states )
    - Cropland used for crops: 420,000 acres
    - Idle cropland: 11,000 acres
    - Cropland pasture: 7,000 acres
    - Most valuable crops produced: corn ($124.6 million), soybeans ($59.7 million), wheat ($17.8 million), hay & haylage ($5.3 million), barley ($3.5 million)

    The American Farmland Trust recognized Delaware’s farmland protection program as second only to New Jersey’s in terms of effectiveness. Delaware has preserved 139,000 acres of farmland, the state announced in June 2020.

  • #41. New Jersey

    - Total cropland: 449,000 acres
    - Cropland as a percent of all state land: 9.5% (#18 lowest among all states )
    - Cropland used for crops: 403,000 acres
    - Idle cropland: 29,000 acres
    - Cropland pasture: 16,000 acres
    - Most valuable crops produced: blueberries ($85.3 million), peppers ($45.9 million), corn ($45.3 million), hay & haylage ($35.0 million), soybeans ($29.3 million)

    New Jersey counts food and agriculture as its third-largest industry. Only pharmaceuticals and tourism are more profitable to the state. Nursery and greenhouse products are the most prevalent commodities, followed by fruits and vegetables.

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