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Climate change a serious threat to farming | READER COMMENTARY

This photo provided by the University of Maryland shows invading saltwater and its effect on trees from the roots up. The last to succumb at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland's Eastern Shore are the loblolly pines. (Sarah Sopher/University of Maryland via AP)
This photo provided by the University of Maryland shows invading saltwater and its effect on trees from the roots up. The last to succumb at the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge on Maryland's Eastern Shore are the loblolly pines. (Sarah Sopher/University of Maryland via AP) (Sarah Sopher / AP)

My organization, American Farmland Trust, has been working for 40 years to protect farmland from residential and commercial development. Even so, between 2001 and 2016, the time frame of AFT’s most recent analysis, “Farms Under Threat: The State of the States,” 11 million acres of this nation’s irreplaceable agricultural land was lost or fragmented. Two-thousand acres per day no longer available to produce food, fuel, and fiber. As illuminated in the article, “Coastal farmers in Maryland and across Mid-Atlantic being driven off their land as salt poisons the soil” (Dec. 15), development is no longer the only threat to farmland. Threats from the impacts of climate change are now coming into view and could hasten the loss by rendering the land useless for crop production or the local climate too hot, too wet or too dry to remain viable for agriculture.

The Mid-Atlantic and especially Maryland’s Eastern Shore holds a high percentage of “nationally significant” land — the best land for long-term food production. Maryland takes farmland protection seriously with robust policy to maintain the agricultural land base, yet our research shows 100,000 acres were still paved over and otherwise compromised for agricultural use. North Carolina also noted in the article is the second most threatened state in the nation. Delaware fared better, but still AFT found that 27,000 acres of nationally significant land and 37,000 acres in total were lost or fragmented.

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The march of development combined with the impacts of climate change — sea level rise and saltwater intrusion representing just one set of concerns — might well imperil U.S. farm viability and our national and regional food security. We must stay vigilant.

Jamie Mierau, Washington, D.C.

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The writer is Mid-Atlantic regional director of American Farmland Trust

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