Gerrit Knaap, executive director of the National Center for Smart Growth Research at the University of Maryland, says we have too much food ["Farmland Acreage Dips in Montgomery," Metro, June 4]. That shows his lack of knowledge about American agriculture.

According to the American Farmland Trust, 86 percent of fruits and vegetables and 63 percent of dairy products produced in America are directly in the path of rapid development along the two coasts. From 1982 to 1997 the U.S. population grew 17 percent, but the increase in urbanized land was 47 percent. Prime agricultural soils are some of the resources being lost. These are soils that grow plants with the least effort and inputs -- fertilizers, pesticides, etc. They are the soils that when combined with the temperate mid-Atlantic climate are efficient for farming.

The condition of soils for food production around the world combined with projected population growth means that we can expect a world that will need to rely on the Western Hemisphere for increases in food production. If we evaluate national security policy in these uncertain times, preserving our ability to feed ourselves should top our list too.

In addition to guaranteeing land for agricultural production, the preservation of farmland benefits non-farming taxpayers. When urban centers decline, one cause is an unbalanced tax base, with more expenditures and expenses than income. Preserving farms and open space helps balance local budgets and provide a high quality of life for residents.

As the national debate on "smart growth" has broadened, the issue of affordable housing also has been thrown into the discussion about farmland's disappearance; that is disingenuous because affordable units are seldom built in rural areas. We do need better policies to promote affordable housing, but ending programs that protect the resources that feed us is a poor trade-off. It provides short-term gain for a few but burdens future generations with increased costs and dependency on offshore food.

MARY HEINRICHT

Culpeper