The Census of Agriculture is the most complete account of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Every Thursday USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service will highlight new Census data and the power of the information to shape the future of American agriculture.
When examining the status of Maine’s agriculture using statistics derived from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the words “up” and “increase” appear quite often. Our state’s agriculture and farm-related demographics are growing and diversifying each year.
Both the number of farms and land in farms in Maine increased since the last Census of Agriculture in 2007. In fact, we have the most farms of the New England states, and the land in farms is up eight percent from 2007. In addition, the average size of a Maine farm is 178 acres, up seven percent since 2007. Organic production and aquaculture sales increased from between 2007 and 2012 as well: the value of aquaculture sales increased from $26.3 million to $75.1 million (ranking us eighth nationally) and organic products increased from $23.3 million to $36.4 million. Lastly, since the 2007 Census, the total market value of agricultural sales increased 24 percent, the average value of sales per farm increased 23 percent, and the value of crops, including nursery and greenhouse, went up 46 percent.
There are even more examples of increases on the demographic side of Maine’s agriculture. For instance, in 2012, the average age of a principal farm operator was 57 years-old, up from 56.4 in 2007. However, this is still younger than the national average of 58.3 years for principal operators. Additionally, the number of female operators increased 17 percent, and the percent of principal farm operators who were women in 2012 increased to 29 percent from 25 percent in 2007. Nationally, women make up about 14 percent of all principal operators. Finally, although the percent of principal operators in Maine who were beginning farmers (those who have been on their current operation 10 years or fewer) did not change from 2007 to 2012, the number of those who had been on their present farm two years or fewer increased 23 percent.
In addition to its general upward momentum, Maine agriculture is unique in other ways. In 16 Maine counties there are 1,133 farms turning out forest products totaling $8.6 million in sales. We also have 2,311 operations with direct market sales, placing us fifth nationally for direct market sales measured in percent of farms. Five percent of Maine farms participate in a community supported agriculture (CSA) arrangement, placing us third nationally, and we have three counties in the top twenty nationwide for the number of farms practicing a CSA arrangement. We rank fifth nationally for potato acreage, second nationally for land in berries, and first nationally for blueberry (our state fruit) acreage. We have 264 farms that have their own renewable energy producing systems, with solar panels being the most popular, followed by wind turbines. Lastly, Somerset County ranks first nationally for the number of maple taps and the gallons of maple syrup produced and Aroostook County ranks first for oat acreage and oat production.
The rapid increases and diversification of Maine’s agriculture reflects the dynamic nature of agriculture and farm-related demographics in our country, and it’s clear that our state will remain a key player.