Delaware farmers produced a record $1.2 billion worth of crops and livestock in 2012, according to Census of Agriculture data released Thursday, showing how First State agriculture is thriving and succeeding despite economic challenges, state leaders said.
"No one works harder in Delaware than our farmers, and these numbers are proof of their entrepreneurship, innovation and determination to succeed," Gov. Jack Markell said. "In a tough economy, they are doing their part to help move Delaware forward."
Delaware agricultural production for 2012, estimated at $1.283 billion, increased 19 percent from the last Census of Agriculture in 2007, when it was $1.083 billion. The value of crop production more than doubled from the 2007 Census, to $429 million, in part due to high commodity prices in recent years.
The record-setting figure, from a preliminary Census report by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, is part of a snapshot of Delaware and United States farming produced every five years. The Census data is online at http://www.agcensus.usda.gov.
Delaware Secretary of Agriculture Ed Kee noted that Delaware has carved out a strong niche with the poultry and vegetable processing industries, which stand its agricultural economy in good stead. The growth came even though the data was recorded in 2012, which saw Delaware and much of the country suffering severe drought.
"These numbers reveal that even in trying economic times, First State farmers are determined, hard-working and committed to leading the nation," Kee said. "These numbers are evidence that we have a strong, viable industry with a powerful economic impact. Agriculture is the backbone of Delaware's economy."
Delaware was one of only a handful of states, including neighboring Maryland, to have an increase in the number of women who operate farms. Eighteen percent of First State farms, or 445, were operated by women in 2012, up from 16 percent in 2007.
The Census data shows that since the last survey, in 2007, the amount of farmland in Delaware and the number of farms have both decreased slightly -- farm acreage down less than 1 percent (1,599 acres) and the number of farms down three percent (89 farms).
Kee said that decrease generally mirrors national trends, as fewer people are involved in farming. Nationally, the number of farms decreased by 4 percent, with the amount of land in farming down by 1 percent, according to the Census data. But Kee noted that Delaware has taken the lead in working to halt that trend through the Young Farmers Program and the Agricultural Lands Preservation Foundation.
More than a fifth -- 22 percent, or 115,000 acres -- of Delaware farmland is permanently preserved thanks to the Foundation's work, and 20 farmers have been able to purchase property thanks to the Young Farmers loan program over the last two years.
"Keeping farms active and profitable is a team effort, and this work has been a long-term goal of many people in Delaware," Kee said. "Our children and grandchildren will thank us for the investments we have made in their future."
Kee and Chris Cadwallader, director of the National Agricultural Statistics Service's Delaware office, thanked growers and producers who completed their Census forms. Delaware's Census response rate was 78 percent, close to the national average of 80 percent.
"This data is critical to helping everyone understand how agriculture operates and its impact," Cadwallader said. "Farmers and other business owners use Census data to market their products, while policymakers and legislators use the figures to understand the importance of agriculture and how it is changing."
The preliminary Census data provides a first look at certain national and state statistics. The remainder of the data, including county-level figures, will be released in May. The preliminary data may be revised slightly when the final Census data is released.
The Census of Agriculture, which dates to 1840, is conducted every five years. The data released today was gathered in 2012.