WASHINGTON Maryland farm sales rose to $1.31 billion in 1997, even as the number of farmers and amount of farmland in the state continued to decline.
But while farm sales were up 12 percent from 1992 to 1997, farm costs in Maryland were up 15.3 percent in the same period, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture census, released this week.
“They’re not all out there getting rich quick,” said Valerie Connelly of the Maryland Farm Bureau.
Connelly said she has received several calls from concerned farmers who said higher costs have eaten away at their increased sales.
“There isn’t the impression that farmers are making huge profits,” said Connelly, whose non-profit organization represents about 14,000 farm families in the state.
The farm census said the number of full- time farmers in Maryland fell 10.7 percent from 1992 to 1997 and the number of farms dropped 7 percent.The state’s agricultural sales rose 12 percent in the same period, from $1.17 billion.
While the number of farms in the state fell from 13,037 to 12,084, the farm census reported that farms of 1,000 acres and more actually increased from 351 in 1992 to 369 in 1997. In the previous 1987-92 farm census, by contrast, the number of these largest farms grew by only one.
Connelly believes that the increase in large farms is a result of the graying of the farm population.
“Mostly what you see is that when one older farmer decides not to farm, the neighbor takes over,” she said, which makes “the individual farms look bigger” over time.
Connelly’s comments on the aging farm population are backed up by the USDA census. It said the average age of Maryland farmers rose from 53.9 in 1992 to 55.2 in 1997.
Additionally, farms today tend to support single families as opposed to many as they did in the past, she said.
The farm census also reported that from 1992 to 1997 in Maryland:
— The number of farms that recorded more than $10,000 in sales fell from 6,532 in 1992 to 6,071 in 1997.
— At the same time, average sales for a farm grew from $89,693 to $108,580.
— The average size of a farm grew from 171 acres to 178 acres.
— The number of full-time farmers fell from 6,980 to 6,235.
— The number of female farmers fell 9.5 percent, from 1,537 to 1,390.
— The number of black farmers fell from 253 to 201, while the number of Hispanic farmers grew from 48 to 85 and the number of Asian farmers inched up from 16 to 18.
Unchanged in the census was the dominance of poultry over the rest of the state’s agricultural products.
Poultry sales in Maryland were worth $568 million, or 43 percent of the state’s total agricultural sales of $1.3 billion in 1997. Poultry sales rose $75 million between 1992 and 1997.
“The agricultural industry changes to meet demand,” Connelly said of the increase in poultry business. “Many farmers have added on a chicken house which pays for the fact that they are losing (money) on grain.”