3/3/2014 6:30 AM
By Andrew Jenner Virginia Correspondent
Preliminary figures from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, released last week by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, or NASS, show that gross farm receipts increased significantly across the country since the last census was conducted in 2007.
Total farm earnings in the four Mid-Atlantic states in Lancaster Farming’s southern region — Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia — grew by $1.7 billion to a total of $8.1 billion. Virginia has the largest farm economy of the four states. In 2012, Virginia farmers grossed $3.8 billion. Next in total earnings was Maryland, $2.3 billion, followed by Delaware, $1.2 billion, and West Virginia, $809 million.
Earnings in each of those states rose dramatically since 2007, particularly in West Virginia, which saw a 37 percent growth in its total farm receipts.
Livestock accounted for nearly two-thirds, or $5.1 billion, of farm receipts in the region, while crops made up the remaining $3 billion. In West Virginia, livestock made up for more than 80 percent of total earnings. Crops made up the largest portion of total farm earnings in Maryland, where they accounted for 46.3 percent of sales.
Nationwide, gross farm receipts grew by 33 percent since 2007, to a total of $394.6 billion. Rising prices for commodity crops were the biggest reason behind this income growth. Virginia ranks 31st among all states in total farm receipts. Maryland ranks 36th, Delaware 39th and West Virginia ranks 41st.
Since 2007, the average age of American farmers has also increased, continuing what is now a 30-year trend, according to NASS. The average American farmer in 2012 was 58.3 years old, up from 57.1 years old in 2007.
Farmers in the Mid-Atlantic states are even older than the national average. The average age of a Delaware farmer is 58.4 years old, and the average age of a farmer in Maryland is 59.0 years old. In Virginia, the average age of farmers is 59.5 years old, and West Virginia it is 59.7 years old. Those average ages have increased by at least a year in each of those states; in Delaware, the increase in average age was particularly dramatic, from 55.4 in 2007 to 58.4 in 2012.
The preliminary census figures also showed a large amount of growth in total farmland area in Virginia, which increased nearly 230,000 acres to a total of 8.3 million acres. According to NASS, Virginia was the only state in the country to experience a statistically significant gain in farm acreage since the 2007 census — while nearly 20 states gained some farmland, only Virginia did so to a “statistically significant” degree.
It is unclear where in Virginia this farmland growth occurred, as county-level census data won’t be released until May. The NASS Virginia Field Office told Lancaster Farming that further analysis or insight into this farmland increase — almost identical in size to the 2007 total amount of land being farmed in Rockingham County, the state’s most important agricultural county — won’t be available until more detailed data is published.
West Virginia lost nearly 91,000 acres of farmland, or 2.5 percent of its total farm acreage, between 2007 and 2012, according to the NASS figures. Farm acreage in Maryland and Delaware declined by smaller amounts, down by 21,000 and 1,600 acres, respectively.
Nationwide, farm acreage fell by 7.5 million acres, an area nearly the size of the entire state of Maryland, over the same period.