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Important Farmland Map Collection

Important Farmland Map Collection


According to the American Farmland Trust, 2,000 acres of agricultural land in the United States are paved over every day (The Trust, 2022). This results in negative effects on our waterways and coastal waters not to mention decreased capacity for producing food and other agricultural products. This trend was seen decades ago by the USDA Soil Conservation Service. In response, the Service created and published county maps that colorfully delineated prime and unique farmland. 


The purpose was to help city planning and other officials understand the high quality land resources in their area [and thereby avoid if possible in future urban growth projects]. As the multi-year project unfurled, it prioritized counties experiencing rapid land use change. 


Map production continued into the early 1980s, but then took a turn for the worse. The project fell far short of the intended 1,200 counties - perhaps the recession of the early 1980s had something to do with that. And somehow the maps also escaped widespread distribution through the Federal Library Depository network. Most maps produced by Federal government agencies are widely distributed and one can expect hundreds of copies to be available in libraries across the country. These maps, however, remained fairly obscure with just a few counties available in scattered collections.


Recently the Big Ten Academic Alliance member libraries came to realize that each institution owned only parts of the collection. Through the Geospatial Information Network they planned a project to scan and make available online each library’s collection, indexing them all together in the Big Ten Geoportal. So far 36 counties in Michigan have been submitted, with more expected in the future from other states. The maps will be gathered into a collection called Important Farmland Map Collection.


Caption: Important and unique farmlands are highlighted in the rapidly growing area between Grand Rapids and Zeeland, Michigan. From the 1977 map “Important Farmlands [ Ottawa County, Michigan]”



Kelley, Hubert W. Inventory Maps Published to Save Important Farmland. Soil and Water Conservation News, April 1980, pages 1-2.

What’s at Stake. American Farmland Trust,, accessed 28 November 2022.