ERS compiles data and performs research focused on issues related to agricultural land: land use, land values, and land ownership.
Agricultural production is a major use of land, accounting for around 51 percent of the U.S. land base (see data on Major Land Uses). Land use and land-use changes have important economic and environmental implications for commodity production and trade, open space, soil and water conservation, air quality and atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations, and other areas of interest.
With a value of $2.36 trillion in 2015, farm real estate (land and structures) accounted for four-fifths of the total value of U.S. farm sector total assets (see more on farm assets and debt, including real estate). Because real estate comprises such a significant portion of the balance sheet of U.S. farms, a change in its value can be a critical barometer of the farm sector's financial performance. Changes in farmland values also affect the financial well-being of agricultural producers because farm real estate is the largest single component in a typical farmer's investment portfolio and it serves as the principal source of collateral for farm loans.
Farmland ownership trends identify the extent to which the benefits of farmland ownership accrue to individuals who farm, or to nonoperators (landowners who do not themselves farm) who own land for investment or other purposes. About 40 percent of U.S. farmland has been rented over the last 25 years. Nonoperators owned 31 percent of land in farms in 2014, though that proportion has declined since 1992.