Virginia agricultural sales up, farm numbers down, census finds

recessionbusters-headerThe sale of agricultural products, both nationally and in Virginia, reached a record high in 2012, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

Census findings were released May 2 by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Conducted every five years, the census provides detailed information about the U.S. farm sector at the national, state and county levels.

In Virginia, the market value of agricultural products sold was $3.75 billion, up 29 percent from $2.91 billion in 2007. Nationally, farmers sold a record $394.6 billion in agricultural products, but it cost them a record $328.9 billion to produce that.

The market value for crops sold in Virginia was up 58.5 percent from five years ago; the market value for livestock sold was up 16.9 percent; and the average value of agriculture products sold per farm was more than $20,000 higher than in 2007.

Virginia had 46,030 farms in 2012, which represented a 2.9 percent decrease from 47,383 farms in 2007. Farm numbers dropped, but total farmland increased 2.4 percent from 8.1 million acres in 2007 to 8.3 million acres in 2012. The average size of a Virginia farm increased as well—from 171 acres to 180.

“While the census indicates a slight drop in the number of farmers in Virginia, this is not cause for alarm. We should focus on the significant increase in the value of agricultural products sold and the increase in overall acreage,” explained Spencer Neale, commodity marketing director for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation.

The average age of a principal farm operator in Virginia was 59.5 years, compared to 58.2 years in 2007. The national average age was 58.3 years.

The census also reported that nearly 150,000 farmers and ranchers nationwide are selling products directly to consumers, which represents an 8.1 percent increase over 2007.

“The impact of local food demand continues to be reflected in the census. The 2012 report shows the value of ag products sold directly to consumers by Virginia farmers was almost $42 million, up from $29 million five years ago,” Neale said. “This is a market segment that continues to grow dramatically year-in and year-out.”

And farmers continue to practice good stewardship. The census report found that close to 500,000 farms encompassing 173.1 million acres were farmed with conservation tillage or no-till practices. And 57,299 farms reported using a renewable energy-producing system in 2012, more than double the 23,451 who reported the same in 2007.

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