- Associated Press - Saturday, July 5, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Farms and land devoted to farming in Kentucky has drastically decreased in recent years, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The Census of Agriculture says between 2007 and 2012, Kentucky had the greatest percentage decrease in farmland of any state in the U.S., losing nearly a million acres.

Farmland declined in the state over that time by 943,000 acres, or 6.7 percent, The Lexington Herald-Leader reported (http://bit.ly/1pJVK7o). The number of farms in Kentucky also declined, from 85,260 in 2007 to 77,064 in 2012.

“There’s a growing demand among consumers for locally grown products,” said Jennifer Dempsey, director of the American Farmland Trust’s Information Center. “And if at the same time you have a significant decline in your land in farms, I would say that’s a problem. You’ve lost almost 944,000 acres almost in one clip. That’s pretty significant.”

But the general trend statewide and around the country over time is that fewer acres are devoted to farms, said David Knopf, regional director of the National Agricultural Statistics Service office in Louisville. The service is the agency that conducts the census and distributes its results. The latest census was released by the USDA in May.

“Within any given year, you could have someone in (farming) one year and out the next,” Knopf said. “It tends to be the relatively small farms, either in size or in the value of sales, who report in one census that they are a farm and they report in the next census that they’re not a farm.”

A farm is defined by the government as “any place that produced and sold, or normally would produce and sell, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the census year.”

Knopf said one operation may raise livestock and have 100 acres in one census, “so they get counted as a farm,” Knopf said. “Well, in the next census, they’re not raising any livestock and so there goes 100 acres of land in one farm. So it goes like that from one census to the next.”

Kentucky probably saw a decline because some land was unproductive and some was intentionally rotated out of production, Daniel Smaldone, a spokesman for Kentucky Farm Bureau, wrote in an email.

John-Mark Hack of Versailles suspects the drop is “a lingering aftereffect of the demise of the tobacco program that no one has taken notice of.” Hack is executive director of the Local Food Association, a national trade association.

“My perception is that we have a tremendous asset in productive farmland in Kentucky that is being underutilized,” he said.

Other states with the largest percentage declines in farmland were Alaska (5.4 percent), Georgia (5.2 percent), Mississippi (4.6 percent) and Wisconsin (4.1 percent).

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Information from: Lexington Herald-Leader, http://www.kentucky.com

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