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October 1980

Our "Shrinking" Farmland: Mirage or Potential Crisis?

by Clifton B. Luttrell

Each year, more American farmland is being converted to nonfarm uses such as highways, houses, airports, and shopping centers. This development has engendered fear that the decline in farmland will eventually produce a severe crisis for U.S. food production. Leading proponents of the shrinking farmland thesis contend that decisions to convert agricultural land to nonagricultural uses should be transferred from the private to the public sector. This article asserts that the arguments for social planning of land use are erroneous. First, there is no evidence that the quantity of cropland is shrinking or that shortages of food are imminent. Furthermore, even if the alleged problem did exist, there is no evidence that it could be solved more efficiently by social planning than by market participants.