A recent analysis of Ohio agriculture found that the industry is facing some hardships because of an aging farmer population and consolidation of the industry, but that there are many positives to look forward to, such as a positive growth in farmland.
The analysis, which was conducted by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association (OEFFA), evaluated new numbers released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) in the USDA’s most recent comprehensive farming survey that it releases every five years. The OEFFA is a non-profit that promotes organic farming.
The USDA surveyed millions of farmers and reached out to every farming operation that generated $1,000 or more in agricultural products.
“The new NASS data reveals ongoing challenges, like an aging farmer population and consolidation in agriculture, but also very positive growth in the number of beginning and organic farmers, as well as an increase in farmland for the first time in decades,” Amalie Lipstreu, the policy director for OEFFA said in a news release. “These trends provide data needed for Ohio policymakers to make real investments to grow the agricultural economy in the state and create jobs that contribute to community economic, environmental, and social health.”
According to the OEFFA analysis, the average age of Ohio farmers rose from 54.6 in 2012 to 55.8 in 2017. However, this number is better than the national average, which rose from 56.3 in 2012 to 57.5 in 2017.
About 91 percent of Ohio farms are 499 acres or less. The value of the products sold by small farms decreased by 10 percent over the last five years, but government payments to Ohio farmers increased by 86 percent.
The number of Ohio farms grew by to about 77,000, an increase of about 2,300, over the past five years. 773 of these farms are certified as organic, which is the sixth most organic farms in the country. A larger percentage of farmland is owned by the farmer rather than leased. Farming land in Ohio increased by 4,700 acres, but leased farming decreased by 165,000 acres.
"The growth in interest in organics, which is a voluntary, market-based certification program that requires a comprehensive annual farm plan, inspections, and oversight, should send a signal that organic agriculture is a viable option for improving water quality in Ohio,” Lipstreu said. “As the Governor and the Ohio Legislature contemplate ways to incentivize good management practices, certified organic production systems – which help to build soil structure and reduce runoff – need to be prioritized.”
The total number of farmers rose about 7 percent nationally and saw a 27 percent increase in women farmers.