Login | June 18, 2019

Challenges lay ahead for state farm industry: U.S. ag census

Special to the Legal News

Published: June 13, 2019

A state organization that promotes a healthy food system and prosperity for Ohio farm families offered its take on the recently released nationwide census of agriculture, noting some of the challenges ahead for one of the state's leading industries.

In its analysis of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service 2017 Census of Agriculture, the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association illustrated challenges such as an aging farmer population and agriculture consolidation.

"As the total population of farmers ages, the need to support next generation farmers becomes more critical," the organization wrote. "While the average age of farmers in Ohio is slightly lower, it is also on the rise: from 54.6 in 2012 to 55.8 in 2017."

Fortunately for the Buckeye State, it ranks sixth in the country for the number of beginning farmers.

The census also detailed an increase in both small farms and large farms and a decrease in the number of farms between 30 and 500 acres.

"This bifurcation in farm size occurs as farms consolidate with more sales volume coming from a smaller number of large farms," the analysis provided. "The value of farm production from the largest farms - more than $1 million in production value - increased from 41 percent of all sales in 2012 to almost 70 percent of sales in 2017."

OEFFA Policy Director Amalie Lipstreu said despite these problems, the report offered some positive signs that the industry is moving in the right direction.

"Ohio is home to more than 77,000 farms, the highest number of farms since 1997," the report noted. "After decades of farm loss, the number of farms is on the rise."

Acreage in production increased by nearly 4,700 acres - the first increase since 2002.

"These trends provide data needed for Ohio policymakers to make real investments to grow the agricultural economy in the state and create jobs that contribute to community economic, environmental, and social health," Lipstreu said in a prepared statement.

The census was sent to millions of farmers and sought information from any farm operation generating $1,000 or more of agricultural products.

Other notable findings from the survey include:

• In Ohio, 91 percent of farms are 499 acres or less and the amount of leased land in farming decreased by almost 165,000 acres.

• Ohio is sixth in the nation in the number of certified organic farms and second in the nation in the number of acres being transitioned to organic production systems.

• Nationally, the number of conventional farmers seeking organic certification increased by almost 40 percent.

• The number of women operators in the U.S. increased 27 percent.

"The growth in interest in organics, which is a voluntary, market-based certification program that requires a comprehensive annual farm plan, inspections and oversight, should send a signal that organic agriculture is a viable option for improving water quality in Ohio," Lipstreu said. " As the governor and the Ohio legislature contemplate ways to incentivize good management practices, certified organic production systems - which help to build soil structure and reduce runoff - need to be prioritized."

Other areas ripe for investment, according to Lipstreu, include local and regional food systems. The value of food sold directly to U.S. consumers almost doubled since the last census.

"Investments in meat processing, as well as fruit and vegetable processing and distribution infrastructure can result in a huge return on investment," she said.

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