Between 2002 and 2007, total cropland decreased by 34 million acres to its lowest level since this USDA data series began in 1945, according to “Major Uses of Land in the United States, 2007” from the department’s Economic Research Service (ERS). This decrease occurred even though harvested cropland, which accounts for most land planted to crops, increased 5 million acres because of recovery of failed cropland from severe droughts in 2002.

A 26-million-acre decline in cropland pasture contributed to this trend, partly because of methodological changes in the 2007 Census of Agriculture that reclassified some cropland pasture to permanent grassland pasture and range.  Total cropland, which includes land planted for crops (82 percent of total cropland), cropland used for pasture, and idled cropland (including acreage removed from production under government programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program) increased in the late 1940s, declined from 1949 to 1964, increased from 1964 to 1978, and decreased again from 1978 to 2007.

Land area in the United States totals nearly 2.3 billion acres. Major land uses in 2007 included forest-use land at 671 million acres (30 percent); grassland pasture and range at 614 million acres (27 percent); cropland at 408 million acres (18 percent); special uses at 313 million acres (14 percent); miscel­laneous uses at 197 million acres (9 percent); and urban land at 61 million acres (3 percent).

Nearly 60 percent (1.35 billion acres) of the land in the United States is privately owned. The federal government owns 29 percent (653 million acres), over a third of which is in Alaska. State and local governments own about 9 percent (198 million acres). About 3 percent (66 million acres) is in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. There were no major changes in these aggregate ownership statistics from 2002 to 2007. Foreign ownership accounted for about 1 percent (22 million acres) of U.S. land in 2007.

ERS said that, to conduct its land use study, data was analyzed from USDA’s Forest Service, National Agricultural Statistics Service, the U.S. Census Bureau, public land management and conservation agencies, and other sources.  In general, more confidence should be put in the broader land-use trends over decades rather than specific 5-year fluctuations, ERS noted.