Officials examine ag census findings
The USDA released its 2017 Census of Agriculture last month, offering reams of new data on many sectors and aspects of the industry, including the number of young farmers — a timely subject for those concerned about the advancing average age of the American farmer.
Regional officials say there are good resources in place to grow the number of young farmers, many of whom are latching onto the area’s rising local food movement and launching alternative crop and value-added operations. But, according to the census, is the number of young farmers growing?
Probably, USDA officials said, though it’s hard to say by how much.
There were 2,262 total young producers in Maryland, the census said — young producers being those of less than 35 years of age.
About 780 of them are “primary producers” or those running a farm in the state. Of the 351 total young producers in Delaware, 136 were primaries, data show. There are about 6,000 young farmers in Virginia, and 2,422 of them are primaries.
The census did not include data from the 2012 census or previous years. Though it’s tracked the ages of farmers across the country (and in states and counties) for many years, it changed its counting process following the 2012 census, allowing for more farmers to be counted per farm, USDA officials said. Consequently, it’s difficult to compare age-related data from 2017 to 2012, said Dale Hawks, a USDA statistician.
Maryland’s community of young farmers does seem to be growing, however, said Michael Calkins, vice chair of the Maryland Young Farmers Advisory Board. The state ag department council recommends policy to the governor that helps young farmers and grows their numbers.
“I think as a board, we would say it’s growing — or we’d like to think it’s growing,” he said.
The council has surveyed young farmers but doesn’t keep a yearly tally to monitor growth.
Agricultural officials said the primary impediments to young farmers in the region are access to financing and affordable land. In Southern Maryland, many young farmers are building profitable operations on small acreage by raising alternative crops, such as cut flowers or herbs, said Shelby Watson-Hampton, director of the Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Council.
Others have already begun agritourism operations, and all of it is fueled by a growing urban and suburban enthusiasm for locally grown food, she said.
“They’re working the farm and a day job, but it’s still better than not having anybody to work farms at all,” she said. “It’s really boosting the rural economy in ways.”
Calkins said he sees the same thing in the area around his and his wife’s Frederick County equine operation, which rests on rented land he said he’d love to own — about 68 acres with a $1.7 million price tag.
“Having the ability to get land at a decent price with what you want on it — a barn, pastures, hay ground to be able to make your own hay — is a big deal,” he said.
1-800-634-5021 410-822-3965 Fax- 410-822-5068
P.O. Box 2026 Easton, MD 21601-8925