Our society depends on private lands for goods, services, and, perhaps most importantly, non-market value products. The Farm Bill provides economic incentives to foster environmental stewardship and conservation on private lands through cost-share, incentive payments, and easements.
Goods And Services
Approximately 77% of cropland, rangeland, pastureland and grassland in the U.S. is privately owned. That’s over 1 billion hectares of land.
This land provides us with
- An abundant, diverse, and inexpensive supply of food
- Livestock forage
- Forest products
- Carbon sequestration
The products grown on private lands stimulate the economy and positively impact the trade imbalance through the export of commodities.
The U.S. produces 630 billion tons of field crops and 71 million tons of hay and livestock forage annually. These items account for 9% of total exports in the U.S.
There are approximately 422 million acres of private forestland in the U.S. These lands provide us with fuel, wood products, and fiber. Private forests provide about 89% of the nation’s timber harvest.
Although these private lands model multiple-use, healthy forests through active management, the challenges to maintaining and improving their health must not be ignored.
Non-market Value Products
Private lands provide many benefits which don’t have a monetary value but upon which we all depend. These include:
- Oxygen production,
- Carbon sequestration,
- Clean air and water,
- Fish and wildlife habitat,
- Biological diversity,
- Recreation, and
- Aesthetic beauty that enriches our lives.
While all of society benefits from these services, the landowner is not usually compensated for them. Landowners bear the costs of land management activities that often have a 50- to 100-year investment time frame.
Landowners can only recover these management costs by selling products, such as timber, carbon credits, cattle, and crops, or selling the land. While only the private landowners invest in the land, we all benefit from the non-market products.
Economic Incentives for Private Landowners
Many owners of small and medium-sized tracts find it difficult, if not impossible, to invest in active and sustainable land management without immediate financial return.
Landowners choose to sell their land for diverse reasons, which may include
- The cost of management,
- The uncertainty of regulations potentially limiting management options, and
- Campaigns, misguided or otherwise, against using particular food and fiber products.
Once sold, these lands are often developed and broken into smaller units that cannot sustain many of the benefits and services society depends on.
The Forest Service has estimated that 400 million acres of land or more could be converted from rural to developed uses by 2050.
Given that we depend on private lands and the risk of these lands being sold and converted for development, Farm Bill programs are vital to conserving private lands and the unpaid services they provide.