Penny's Country Farm 11

Penny's Country Farm in Union Springs.

The number of farms in New York dropped again, according to the latest Census of Agriculture released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

The 2017 census found there are 33,438 farms in New York, down from 35,537 in 2012. The state's farms occupy 6,866,171 acres, which is lower than the 7,183,576 acres farms had five years ago. 

David Fisher, president of the New York Farm Bureau, called the reduction in the number of farms "startling." He noted that there are about 2,100 fewer farms now than there was in 2012. 

"This is the largest drop in more than two decades and is triple the national average of a 3 percent loss," Fisher said. 

There are 49 fewer farms in Cayuga County, according to the new census. The total number of farms fell from 891 to 842 over a five-year period. 

While there is a statewide decline in the number of farms, there are more small farms in operation. The total number of farms with one to nine acres of land in production grew from 2,901 in 2012 to 3,641 in 2017. Among farms with at least 2,000 acres in production there was also an increase. There are now 390 farms in this category, up from 344 five years ago. 

Medium-sized farms took the biggest hit. The total number of farms with between 50 to 179 acres dropped from 13,544 to 11,812. There are 6,508 farms with between 180 to 499 acres, down from 7,446 in 2012. 

The farm bureau highlighted some positive findings in the new census. There was a 35 percent increase in organic farms — 864 in 2012 to 1,330 in 2017 — and the number of vegetable farms is up 2 percent. The number of maple farms grew by 15 percent. 

A vast majority of New York farms — 98 percent — are family owned. The average age of farmers is 55.8 and there are 6,718 producers under the age of 35. 

The census found farms have 55,363 laborers. 

"While there is still much more to learn as we evaluate the mountain of data, it is clear that the depressed farm economy has taken a toll on the overall number of farms in New York, as labor costs continue to mount for our family farms," Fisher said. "At the same time, there are still opportunities across the board. Agriculture remains a leading driver of our rural economy and the data shows we must continue to invest in the farming community while also finding ways to improve the business climate for our more than 33,000 farms in the state." 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.