Kennedy: Cultivating sense of woman-run farms from agricultural census

Regionally, Washington County has most, while Albany County has highest percentage

Come December, if you operated a farm or ranch with at least $1,000 in sales this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture wants to know about you.

The department’s Census of Agriculture, as it’s called, will collect detailed information about who is growing or raising fruits, vegetables, field crops, floriculture and livestock; how they operate; and what their income and expenditures are.

The survey is conducted every five years, in years that end in “7” or “2.”

The department says the data produced have a real purpose in shaping federal, state and local farm policy and programs. I find the results to be just interesting reading.

For instance, by sheer number, Washington County has the largest number of farms in the area whose principal operator is a woman. But those 149 woman-run farms make up just 17 percent of all farms in the county because Washington has a high farm count (851).

In contrast, Albany County has almost as many woman-run farms, 144, but with fewer farms overall (494), they represent a larger percentage of county farms, 29 percent.

The data are from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, which makes the information sound ancient. However, gender characteristics of farmers at the county level were not released until late 2014, making the data the latest available.

Here are some other tidbits on local female farmers from the survey:

  • They’re generally in their 50s, with the youngest average age, 52, in Washington County and the oldest, 59, in Montgomery County.
  • The smallest woman-run farm averaged 61 acres (in Fulton and Saratoga counties), while the largest averaged 130 acres (in Montgomery County).
  • Schenectady County has the fewest number of woman-run farms in the region, 37, but most of those women listed farming as their primary occupation. In Albany County, “other” was the primary occupation of two-thirds of the female farmers.
  • Just one woman-run farm each in Albany, Columbia, Montgomery, Schoharie and Washington counties claimed to have annual sales of $500,000 or more. Most female farmers reported sales of less than $50,000.

The local picture is not much different from that painted by female farmers across the state and the nation: Most are in their 50s; many don’t list farming as their primary occupation; most farm sales total less than $50,000 annually.

And both nationally and in New York, the number of woman-run farms in the 2012 census was down from the number counted in the 2007 census. Locally, only Albany County showed more woman-run farms in 2012 than in 2007.

The Department of Agriculture says any farmer receiving the 2017 Census of Agriculture is required by law to fill it out. The forms, to be mailed in December, are due back Feb. 5.

Data from the new survey will begin to be released in February 2019; detailed reports down to the county level will come later.

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected].

Categories: Business, News, Opinion, Schenectady County

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