BERLIN – Farmers are getting older and farms are getting bigger, predicted Wicomico extension agent Eddie Johnson ahead of the 2007 census of agriculture.
The national census, taken every five years, will identify every farm in every county, the crop grown or livestock raised, the number of acres in production, income and expenditures, and the age of every farmer across the country, along with a host of other data.
“The number of farms is going down. Farm size is going up and the number of acres has gone down. That’s what I expect to see,” said Johnson.
The number of acres in agriculture is going down because of development, but farms are getting bigger as older farmers retire and sell their land to fellow farmers, who add it to their existing property.
Many farmers do not want their land to sell for development, Johnson said, but cannot put a conservation easement that extinguishes development rights while preserving farming rights on their property.
“There’s not enough money in agricultural land preservation,” he said.
There are also very few young people joining the farming ranks.
“The average age now is around 58, so you’re four years away from social security. The number of young farmers going into it is not there. Where are we going to be in 10 years?” Johnson wondered.
Hobby farms are a growing trend locally.
“We have a lot of people moving out of the city with 20 acres down here and they want to know what to do with it,” Johnson said.
Worcester County has 403 farms, out of 12,000 across the state, according to Dale Hawks, deputy statistician for the Maryland field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), which conducts the census.
The survey will be used in making policy decisions at several levels.
“We want farmers to know the census of agriculture is their voice,” said Barbara Rater, director of the NASS Maryland field office.
Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Roger Richardson said the census is critical.
“Policy-makers factor census data into decisions concerning agricultural and rural programs. Community planners use census to target needed services to rural residents. Companies rely on census date when determining where to locate their operations,” he said.
Johnson added, “It’s looked at nationwide. Maryland, of course, is just a drop in the bucket.”