Preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture data shows that New York state is making positive strides.
In late February, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service released the 2012 Census of Agriculture preliminary results - the first official census data since 2007. The results provide a first look at national and state data, including estimates about the number of farms, number of farmers and average age of farmers, among other statistics. Issued every five years, the report is essential to implementing and evaluating agriculture policies and programs across the country.
The final census results, to be released in May, will include national, state and county data on livestock inventory, crop acreage, energy, land use practices and production expenses, among other statistics, increasing the overall scope of the preliminary census.
Blair Smith, New York state statistician for USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service, said that although there was a national trend for decreasing land in farms from 2007-2012, land in farms actually increased slightly in New York during that time.
"Since 2003, land in farms in New York was dropping steadily, until 2009, when it stayed consistent at around 7 million acres," Smith said.
From 2007 to 2012, the amount of land in farms in New York actually increased by less than 1 percent, from 7.17 million acres to 7.18 million acres.
According to Steve Ammerman, manager of public affairs and associate director at New York Farm, the state resisted certain national trends in other areas of the 2012 census.
From 2007 to 2012, New York held a slight advantage over the national loss of farms average of 4.3 percent.
"The loss in number of farms in New York was at 2 percent; we didn't drop to the national average," Ammerman said.
The demographic statistics included in the preliminary census were also notable for the state.
"Another good thing shown in the New York data was the number of young farmers increasing," Smith said.
Ammerman agreed that the slight uptick in the number of young farmers was important to the growth of farming in the state.
Specifically, there were 1,720 farmers age 25 to 34 in 2007, and 1,964 farmers from the same age group in 2012 - an increase of 244 individuals. With the average age of a farmer in New York at 57, involving the younger generation in farming is crucial.
In 2012, the value of agricultural products sold in New York totaled $5.42 billion, up 23 percent from 2007. Crop sales for the state accounted for $2.25 billion and livestock sales accounted for $3.17 billion.
"It's probably fair to say that dairy contributed to the sales growth," Ammerman said. "There is a high demand for dairy products worldwide, including Greek yogurt."
Steadily climbing dairy prices driven by exports and worldwide demand have certainly helped the nearly $1 billion increase in sales, although Ammerman said until the final census in May, it is unclear to what extent dairy is involved with the increase.
"It bodes well that New York is contributing to the world economy," Ammerman said. "Agriculture has a good footing in New York, with a climate that promotes growth and farming," he said of the political environment of the state. "We're moving in a positive direction, but we still need to do more to make farming more accessible, including in the areas of loans and agricultural education."
"One of the most important takeaways to remember about the Census of Agriculture is that the information is used for decision making by producers as well as all those who serve farmers, ranchers and rural communities - federal, state and local governments, agribusiness, trade associations and many others," said Smith. "When we look at the data for our state, we can all use it as a snapshot in time to see how New York agriculture is changing over time and how it compared to the rest of the country."
According to the 2012 census, a farm is defined as any place from which $1,000 of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year.
In May, the release of county-level statistics will provide further details on the agricultural environment in Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.