Some new federal statistics on Connecticut agriculture came out this week, and Gov. Dannel Malloy is applauding the increase in the number of farms in this state in the past five years and is looking to take credit.
In his news release on the subject, the governor (not surprisingly) didn’t mention the fact that not all the news out of that report is good news for Connecticut.
It’s quite true that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s preliminary 2012 farm census shows the number of working farms in Connecticut is up. In 2007, there were 4,916 farms (defined as selling more than $1,000 in agricultural products); and by 2012 there were 5,977.
The amount of land being put to agricultural uses was also up: from 405,616 acres in 2007 to 436,406 in 2012.
“I am pleased – but not surprised – by these results showing Connecticut’s 22 percent increase in number of farms over the last five years is the highest in New England,” the governor said. He was also quite pleased that the amount of agricultural land had also increased.
Malloy said those statistics confirm that his administration’s policy “to build a long-range, strategic pathway to grow Connecticut farms is working.”
Except that the USDA’s report also shows the total value of Connecticut’s agricultural products dropped slightly between 2007 and 2012, from $551.5 million to $550.6.
The average size of Connecticut farms was also down, from 83 acres in 2007 to 73 acres in 2012.
That means there were more farmers working smaller plots of land and producing less valuable agricultural crops and animals.
Henry Talmage, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau, said Friday he sees “mixed results” from the federal census report.
“On the surface, it looks good,” Talmage said. “I’m glad to see more farmers, that’s always a good sign.”
But most of the growth in farms is in smaller operations, many of them run by part-timers, according to Talmage.
“The challenge is, how do you take someone selling $1,500 on a part-time basis and get that farm to grow?” Talmage asks. “Are we going to see the overall value of farm sales go up?”
Another continuing worry is the rising age of our farmers.
In 2007, the number of Connecticut farmers age 55-74 was 2,201. By 2012, that older farm population was up to 3,127 – a 42 percent increase in just five years.
Some of that older population surge is due to new farmers that are actually retirees starting out on a second career in agriculture, Talmage says. But the problem is in keeping with a national trend as young people continue to leave the hard life of farming.
According to that new census report, the average age of a Connecticut farmer is now 58.7 years.
Not exactly a good sign for the future of agriculture around here.