Life on the farm is not what it used to be. Or so says the most recent U.S. Census of Agriculture.
First conducted in 1840, the Census of Agriculture reports on a myriad of aspects of agriculture on the county, state, and national level: acreage in farms, average farm size, the value of farm products and more.
Closer to home, the census provides a current snapshot of the characteristics of the approximate 6,000 farm families in Maryland.
The census, released in May, offers reassurance that farming in Maryland is thriving.The total value of agricultural products sold in Maryland increased 23.8 percent to nearly $2.3 billion over the past five years. In addition to healthy sales volumes across the state, the census indicates that the decline in agricultural acreage of recent decades appears to be slowing: the total acreage of land in farms in Maryland declined from 2,051,756 to 2,030,745, a loss of 21,011 acres since 2007.
That is far fewer than the 115,433 acres lost between 1997 and 2002. The experience of individual counties varies, however: eight counties experienced increases in agricultural acreage, a surprising trend given the spread of exurban residential sprawl development and rural subdivisions over the past several decades.
Most encouraging, the agricultural declines in acreage and number of farms that occurred in Maryland in recent decades appear to be slowing, although this differs by county and region.
The slowdown of farm loss may indicate that farmland is not being seen as just a temporary use until it is developed, but, rather, as an important part of the economy and Maryland landscape. Healthy agricultural communities contribute to smart growth and sustainable communities. Farms, farm-related businesses, and rural communities are key elements of the economy, food system, environment, and quality of life and are critical to successful implementation of smart growth strategies throughout Maryland.
Future censuses will show if this slowing loss of farmland is a lasting change or the result of post-2008 real estate market trends.
Maryland farmers are different from their counterparts across the country. While the average Maryland farmer is 59 and has been farming nearly 26 years, close to 19 percent of Maryland farms are run by women, compared to the national average of 13.7 percent.
Well, life’s on a farm is kinda laid back,
Ain’t much an old country boy like me can’t hack
It’s early to rise, early in the sack
Thank God I’m a country boy
~ John Denver
Marylanders are leading the way in developing new farm markets and farm products, a useful indicator for the success of agricultural preservation efforts and the increased role of agriculture as an economic engine in the state. The 1,276 farms selling directly to consumers showed a 32-percent increase in sales, reaching $28 million in 2012. New this year, the census showed that there are 539 farms selling market products directly to retailers.
Other findings include the following:
- The counties with the greatest number of farms are Frederick (1,308), Carroll (1,092), Washington (860), Garrett (667), and Caroline (658)
- The loss in the number of farms from 2007 through 2012 was led by Frederick County (134), Harford County (122) and Baltimore County (111)
- The counties with the largest value of production (in millions of dollars) are Caroline ($257.9), Wicomico ($236.3), Somerset ($219.0), Worcester ($199.3), and Dorchester ($187.1)
- The average farm size increased to 166 acres, up from 160 acres in 2007.
- 119 farms marketed products through community supported agriculture operations (CSAs)
While corn, soybeans and poultry are still the dominant agricultural products in Maryland, the census reveals more diversification in crops and markets. For the first time, the 2012 Census issued data on conservation and renewable energy in use in the agricultural sector. The census indicates how many farms are generating renewable energy and using it for agricultural production. There are 467 renewable energy systems now in place on Maryland farms (up from 131 in 2007), including 284 solar panel systems, 83 geo-exchange systems, 29 that use wind turbines, and 45 that produce biodiesel.
Census data indicated that farmers are now using conservation tillage on nearly half of Maryland farmland (962,481 acres) on 4,589 Maryland farms, while 7 percent of farm acres are used for conventional tillage practices.
Learn more about Maryland’s results in the Ag Census at MDP’s Data Center. Also visit: