Figures released Wednesday show that six counties in the Capital Region shed more than 58,000 acres of farmland and lost 104 farms between 2002 and 2007.
Results in the USDA’s 2007 Census of Agriculture show Schoharie County experienced the biggest loss in farms while Montgomery County lost the greatest amount of acreage in the five-year period.
Saratoga County, however, stands alone in the region, with increases both in the number of farms and acreage.
Albany County increased the number of farms but experienced an overall loss in total farmland.
The census reports that Montgomery County had 624 farms in 2002 and lost 20 in the five-year period ending in 2007 — but some officials in Montgomery County on Wednesday said they don’t believe there’s been such a widespread loss of farmland.
In terms of land, the agricultural census shows Montgomery County lost 27,421 acres, leaving the total 2007 acreage at 124,556.
Schoharie County lost a total of 54 farms and 17,245 acres of farmland during the period, representing a 9 percent loss in farms and 15 percent loss of farming acreage, according to the census.
“It’s been a long-term trend. I’m saddened,” Schoharie County Planning Director Alicia Terry said Wednesday.
Farming is considered the primary industry in Schoharie County and Terry said efforts to preserve farmland at the local level can only do so much.
Schoharie County has a countywide farmland protection plan and it was the first county in New York state to develop agricultural districts.
Currently, the towns of Wright, Carlisle, Seward and Cobleskill are developing townwide farmland protection plans and the town of Schoharie is in line waiting for the chance that the state will provide funding to develop one there, Terry said.
In general, the agricultural districts provide limitations on eminent domain and protect farmers from development and restrictive local laws.
But Terry said factors such as the price farmers get for milk — which analysts say will soon drop below the cost of production, if it hasn’t already — play more of a role in the survival of farms than local efforts to preserve them.
“There are very few elected and appointed officials that don’t appreciate the value of agriculture to Schoharie County’s economy. The challenge continues to be the farm gate price for the goods, for the commodities, and making sure that it is enough to support the farm,” Terry said.
Montgomery County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board member Corey Nellis, who serves as director of the county’s Soil and Water Conservation District, said Wednesday he can’t believe the county lost more than 27,000 acres of farmland.
Nellis said it’s possible that the growing population of Amish farmers may not be included in the totals.
“The Amish population generally stay off the grid,” Nellis said.
Nellis said a recent review of one of Montgomery County’s agricultural districts encompassing Minden and Canajoharie showed an increase in the number of farm acres.
“I would be hard pressed to see a loss in agricultural acreage here in the county,” Nellis said.
Stephen Ropel, director of the New York Field Office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, said staff began work on the census, performed every five years, back in 2003.
Questionnaires were sent out to farms and 39,657 were returned, he said. Follow-up surveys took place at farms that didn’t return the forms, and an additional survey was performed on farms that were previously listed but didn’t respond, he said.
Ropel said it’s his understanding that the Amish do participate in the census.
“Any farm of any nature is included,” Ropel said.
It was unclear Wednesday whether there is a discrepancy in Montgomery County’s census figures or not.
Figures for Saratoga County show that there were 592 farms in 2002 and 641 in 2007, with farm acreage increasing by 1 percent to 75,660 acres.
Saratoga County Farm Bureau President Jeremy Knight said he would attribute Saratoga County’s increase in both farm numbers and acreage to a growing number of small farms at which people are growing enough to bring to the local farmers market.
However, he said, the established dairy farms have also been increasing their own acreage.
Knight said he’s seen an increased interest from people looking to purchase products that are grown locally.
“People really like being able to know where their food comes from. That means a lot for them, especially within the last couple of years,” he said.
Despite the dropoff in farm and acreage totals in some Capital Region counties, the farmers working during the five-year period between 2002 and 2007 saw an increase in the market value of production, or sales receipts, according to the census.
Montgomery County farm receipts were estimated around $51.7 million in 2002 and $73.6 million in 2007, according to the census.
Saratoga County saw a 75 percent increase in the market value of production and Schoharie’s increased by 30 percent.
Farm production value in Albany and Schenectady counties both rose by 16 percent and Fulton County’s market value of production increased by 8 percent, according to the census.
New York State Farm Bureau spokesman Peter Gregg said the fact that farmers are producing more value on less land can be attributed to a trend he’s seen for the past 10 years.
“Production efficiencies are playing a role. Farmers are just getting better and better at what they do. There’s a lot of new technology employed on farms that just makes them more efficient, that enables them to produce more on less acreage,” Gregg said.
The 2007 Census of Agriculture can be found on the Internet at www.agcensus.usda.gov.