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© Chesapeake Bay Program (Chesapeake)

Conservation Priority: Farms


Our Goal:

Protect the Chesapeake watershed’s productive farms and prime farmland from conversion and secure space for urban farming to ensure permanent, sustainable ‘close to home’ sources of food for the region’s population and to support the economic and cultural value of our working farms and farmers.

The productive land and prime agricultural soils of the Chesapeake watershed support a rich heritage of working farms. In fact, 6,923,975 acres (17%) of watershed land area are currently being actively used for agricultural purposes. Many farms and related businesses have added economic and cultural value as well, orchards, vineyards, wineries and more. Yet many of our most valuable farm lands are often close to population centers and subject to intense development pressure. Farther away, other regions which supply the largest share of produce coming into the mid-Atlantic are beset by multi-year droughts and climate changes that may have far-reaching impacts. Conserving our region's farms and prime farmland for long-term food production and security is a priority.

The goal identifies three mappable resources: prime farmlands, productive farms and space for urban farming. This includes both lands currently in agricultural production and land classified as highly suitable for farming, but which may not currently be in production. This data layer is based on the following:

Prime farmlands means: (a) soils classified as prime by USDA Soil Survey Geographic database (SSURGO) data; and (b) farm lands identified as of statewide importance by USDA SSURGO data. Some of these lands are not currently in agricultural production.

Productive farms means: All lands currently in agricultural use as identified in USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Cropland Data Layer, excluding areas that are not farmed.

Space for Urban Farming means: To date, urban farming data is only included for three cities where it is available, Baltimore MD, Richmond VA and Washington DC. For these cities, urban farming  consists of small plots (typically known as “community gardens”). Data documenting these plots is derived from files developed and made available by local city groups: Baltimore: Jamie Harding at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future; Richmond: Green Richmond Initiative; Washington DC: DCGIS Open Data.

This data is grouped in three mapping units in this data layer:

  1. Prime/Farmland of Importance, Farmed: This includes prime farmlands that are currently in agricultural use, as defined above.
  2. Additional Farmed lands: This includes other lands currently in agricultural use which are not designated prime, as defined above. This includes urban farming spaces within Richmond VA, Baltimore MD and Washington DC.
  3. Prime/Farmland of Importance, not Farmed: This includes prime farmland that is not currently in agricultural use, as defined above.

Analysis identifies 20,582,542 acres of important farmland for conservation, about 50% of the Chesapeake watershed. Of this, 6,923,975 acres is currently in production. Of the 13,658,567 acres of important farmland not currently in production, most (94%) is currently covered by either forest, shrubs or herbaceous vegetation.

2,700,709 acres (13.1%) of the farmland important for conservation is already permanently protected.

It is likely that map and acreage data will change somewhat in the future as: (1) information becomes available for additional cities on space for urban farming; (2) higher resolution land cover data is put into use; and (3) we learn more about how climate change projections may affect agriculture. Note that important farm land overlaps substantially with other conservation goals, particularly for heritage.

Farm Priorities in the Chesapeake

  • Chesapeake Bay: Farms

    The goal identifies three mappable resources: prime farmlands, productive farms and space for urban farming. This includes both lands currently in agricultural production and land classified as highly suitable for farming, but which may not currently be in production. This data layer is based on the following:

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  • Chesapeake Potential Prime Soils Actively Farmed

    This layer represents the result of a prime farmland model that estimates acreage of farmed land on prime soils.

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  • Delaware Agricultural Districts

    This dataset contains a spatial location of agricultural districts in the State of Delaware. A district is a voluntary agreement to use land only for agricultural purposes for at least a ten year period.

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  • Maryland Agricultural Priority Preservation Areas

    Agricultural Priority Preservation Areas are designated by counties and certified by the Maryland Department of Planning as agricultural conservation priorities.

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  • Maryland Rural Legacy Areas

    The purpose of the Rural Legacy Program is to protect Maryland's best remaining rural landscapes and natural areas through the purchase of land or conservation easements.

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  • Virginia Agricultural Model 2015 edition

    The purpose of the Virginia Agricultural Model is to quantify the relative suitability of lands for agricultural activity. It is intended for use by state and local governments, planning districts, environmental consultants, land trusts, and others involved in land use planning and conservation prioritization.

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