Capital Region

The number of farms in New York continues to shrink – except in some places locally

A few Capital Region counties buck long-running downward trend in New York
Shannon Sears,18, of the Ira-Moos Farms, Middlefield, with one of her registered Holsteins.
Shannon Sears,18, of the Ira-Moos Farms, Middlefield, with one of her registered Holsteins.

ALBANY — The number of farms and the amount of farmland has continued to shrink across New York state this decade, a new federal report shows.

Three Capital Region counties went against the long running trend: Saratoga, Schenectady and Schoharie counties all saw increases in number of farms, while Schoharie County also saw an increase in number of farmed acres.

The data are contained in the U.S. Departments of Agriculture’s 2017 Census of Agriculture, which the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service compiles once every five years.

Similar efforts have been underway in some form since George Washington was president, and the first formal agricultural census was undertaken in 1840 by the U.S. Census Bureau. The USDA took over from the Census Bureau in 1996.

The numbers are bolstered by estimates, as farmer participation has gradually declined over the years, even as technology to gather and analyze statistics has improved.

The number of farms statewide declined from 105,714 in 1954 to 37,743 in 1987 to 33,438 in 2017. Farmed acres declined from 15.1 million to 8.4 million to 6.9 million in those same years.

Some county-level statistics from the Capital Region:

Number of farms in 2017 and 2012:

  • Albany 440, 494
  • Fulton 207, 211
  • Montgomery 564, 659
  • Rensselaer 470, 495
  • Saratoga 591, 583
  • Schenectady 185, 169
  • Schoharie 541, 532

Total farm acreage in 2017 and 2012:

  • Albany 59,564, 63,394
  • Fulton 22,181, 31,869
  • Montgomery 114,990, 131,386
  • Rensselaer 82,766, 88,763
  • Saratoga 71,604, 78,849
  • Schenectady: 17,360, 19,868
  • Schoharie 99,819, 98,369

Value of agricultural products produced in 2017:

  • Albany $47.3M
  • Fulton $10.3M
  • Montgomery $75M
  • Rensselaer $41M
  • Saratoga $76.8M
  • Schenectady $5.5M
  • Schoharie $47.9M

Average 2017 farm value, both land and structures:

  • Albany $601,883
  • Fulton $550,272
  • Montgomery $506,591
  • Rensselaer $618,709
  • Saratoga $713,614
  • Schenectady $402,340
  • Schoharie $449,208

Cattle and calves in 2017 and 2012:

  • Albany 6,814, 9,765
  • Fulton 3,108, 3,466
  • Montgomery 26,092, 30,483
  • Rensselaer 11,003, 11,366
  • Saratoga 21,150, 18,690
  • Schenectady 1,115, 761
  • Schoharie 15,739, 13,290

The value of organic food produced in 2017 and 2012:

  • Albany $921K $181K
  • Fulton $471K NA
  • Montgomery $5.2M $2.3M
  • Rensselaer $1.1M $210K
  • Saratoga NA NA
  • Schenectady NA NA
  • Schoharie $908K $425K

One local standout among the statistics: Saratoga County  led the state in reported value of horse sales in 2017 — 275 with a combined price tag of $4.4 million. Its 2017 horse population (2,934) was second in the state only to Dutchess County (3,135).

Asked Friday about the statistics, the Cooperative Extension of Saratoga County said the increase in number of farms in the county is likely due to the larger number of vegetable farmers, and the decreased total farm acreage due to development pressure. The extension also noted the growth of the dairy herd there.

Todd Heyn, a district representative with the Farm Bureau of New York, said he hadn’t been able to review the newly released data, but was surprised at the increases in farms and acreage reported in Schoharie County. He said the dynamic recently was been more very large and very small farms but fewer midsized farms.

New York Farm Bureau President David Fisher said in a news release Friday: “The most startling statistic is, we now have 33,438 farms in the state, about 2,100 fewer farms than 2012.  This is the largest drop in more than two decades and is triple the national average of a 3 percent loss. The losses run the gamut, including a 90 percent drop in both the smallest and largest farms in terms of value of sales. New York also saw a nearly 20 percent decline in the number of dairy farms in the state.”

He continued: “On the positive side, there were elements of growth. New York saw a 35 percent increase in organic farms, from 864 in 2012 to 1,330 farms in 2017. According to the market value summary, the number of vegetable farms in the state is 3,544 farms, up 2 percent, and fruit farms rose 8 percent to 3,083 farms. New York had a 15 percent jump in maple operations to 1,662 in the state.”

Some other statistics gleaned from the Ag Census:

  • Families own 98 percent of farms in New York
  • Average farm size is 205 acres, up from 202 acres in 2012
  • There were 21,860 female farmers and 35,985 male 
  • Average farmer age is 55.8 years old
  • There were 6,718 producers under the age of 35
  • Hired farm labor totaled 55,363 employees

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