Soil erosion on cropland declined by more than 40 percent over the past 25 years, but more than one-third of development of U.S. land occurred during the same period.

That’s according to the latest National Resource Inventory for non-federal lands, released April 27 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Total cropland erosion dropped by 43 percent, from more than 3 billion tons per year in 1982 to 1.72 billion tons annually in 2007. Most of the erosion reductions occurred between 1987 and 1997.

Cropland acreage declined 15 percent from 420 million acres in 1982 to 357 million acres in 2007. About half of that reduction is reflected in enrollments of environmentally sensitive cropland in USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program.

About 40 million acres of land were newly developed between 1982 and 2007, bringing the national total to about 111 million acres. More development occurred in the Southeast than in any other region. The NRI definition of developed land includes rural transportation corridors such as roads and railroads, as well as residential, industrial, commercial and other land uses.

The United States had 325 million acres of prime farmland in 2007, compared to 339 million acres in 1982. The acreage of prime farmland converted to other uses during the 25-year period is greater than the combined area of Vermont and New Hampshire and almost as large as 
West Virginia.

The American Farm Bureau Federation noted that the NRI findings reflect its long-standing assertion that American farmers are producing more with fewer resources. While farmland acreage has disappeared, total U.S. crop yield in tons per acres has increased more than 360 percent since 1950.

"This report substantiates all the hard work that farmers and ranchers have done over the years to be more environmentally conscious, to be more efficient at what they do in producing the nation's food and fiber and fuel, and it gives us something to point to when our critics talk about how bad agriculture is," said AFBF President Bob Stallman.

Virginia Farm Bureau Federation President Wayne F. Pryor, a Goochland County grain and beef producer, called the findings on conversion of prime farmland disturbing. "Development can isolate tracts of farmland," he noted, "which degrades a region’s farming infrastructure and ultimately makes farming in that region less efficient."