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Agriculture Census: N.C. Continues To Lose Farms

Feb. 21, 2014. The rate of farmland loss in North Carolina slowed over a five-year period even as the number of farms continued to fall, a review of the federal Census of Agriculture shows.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture conducts an agricultural census every five years and released preliminary results of the 2012 survey today.

North Carolina had 2,700 fewer farms in 2012 than it did in 2007. The state’s 50,210 farms occupy 8.41 million acres of land. In 2007, there were 52,913 farms on 8.47 million acres.

The 62,560-acre drop is significantly less than the amount the state lost over the previous five years. From 2002 to 2007, the decrease was 600,000 acres.

State Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler said a few factors may have slowed the loss of farmland. “The recession reduced the demand for land for residential and commercial development,” he said. “But starting in 2005, the state also established the Agricultural Development and Farmland Preservation Trust Fund to help counties and conservation groups protect working farms and forests, and this program has been beneficial.

“Even so, the loss of 2,700 farms is troubling at a time when worldwide demand for food continues to grow. We also know that North Carolina is gaining about 100,000 people a year, which will only increase the pressure on farmland. We clearly have to step up our conservation efforts. It’s a priority I will work on with the General Assembly this year.”

Other census findings:

The average size of a North Carolina farm is 168 acres, eight more than in 2007.

The average age of N.C. farmers jumped 3 percent to 58.9. Nationally, the average age is 58.3.

Between 2007 and 2012, the market value of N.C. agricultural products sold increased 22 percent to $12.6 billion. The per-farm average value of sales grew by 28 percent to $250,089.

Seventy-eight percent of N.C. farms have been in operation 10 years or more.

The USDA will release additional census data in the spring.