Land use in the US in 2007; total cropland at lowest level since 1945, while urban land use has quadrupled
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service (ERS) recently released its Major Land Uses (MLU) study for the US for 2007. The MLU series is the only accounting of all major uses of public and private land in all 50 States.
The US land area totals nearly 2.3 billion acres. According to the report, major land uses in 2007 included forest-use land at 671 million acres (30%); grassland pasture and range at 614 million acres (27%); cropland at 408 million acres (18%); special uses at 313 million acres (14%); miscellaneous uses at 197 million acres (9%); and urban land at 61 million (3%). Highlights include:
Cropland. Total cropland includes land planted for crops (82% of total cropland); cropland used for pasture; and idled cropland (including acreage removed from production under Government programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program). Total cropland increased in the late 1940s, declined from 1949 to 1964, increased from 1964 to 1978, and decreased again from 1978 to 2007.
Between 2002 and 2007, total cropland decreased by 34 million acres to its lowest level since this series began in 1945, even though harvested cropland (which accounts for most land planted to crops) increased 5 million acres due to a recovery of failed cropland from severe droughts in 2002. A 26-million-acre decline in cropland pasture contributed to this trend, partly due to methodological changes in the 2007 Census of Agriculture that reclassified some cropland pasture to permanent grassland pasture and range.
Grassland Pasture and Range. The estimated acreage of grassland pasture and range increased by 27 million acres (almost 5%) between 2002 and 2007, partly offsetting a decline in this land-use type during 1945-97. The recent increase almost exactly offsets the decline in cropland pasture over the same period. Based on acreage for all grazing land (the sum of grassland pasture and range, cropland used for pasture, and grazed forests), land available for grazing declined from 783 million acres in 2002 to 777 million acres in 2007, continuing a downward trend since the 1940s.
Urban and Rural Residential Areas. Urban land acreage quadrupled from 1945 to 2007, increasing at about twice the rate of population growth over this period. Land in urban areas was estimated at 61 million acres in 2007, up almost 2% since 2002 and 17% since 1990 (after adjusting the 1990 estimate for the new criteria used in the 2000 Census). The Census Bureau estimates that urban area increased almost 8 million acres (13%) during the 1990s.
Census estimates based on the previous criteria indicate that urban area increased 9 million acres (18%) over the 1980s, 13 million acres (37%) over the 1970s, and 9 million acres (36%) over the 1960s.
Estimated rural residential acreage outside urban areas increased to 103 million acres between 2002 and 2007. In percentage terms, this 9-million-acre (10%) increase is about a third of the 21-million-acre (29%) increase over the previous 5-year period (1997-2002) and reflects the downturn in the residential housing market that occurred during the mid 2000s. Despite continuing large percentage increases in urban and rural residential areas, declines in the remaining rural area are small given the size of the available land base.
Cynthia Nickerson, Robert Ebel, Allison Borchers, and Fernando Carriazo (2011) Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2007. Economic Information Bulletin No. (EIB-89) 67 pp, December 2011