As we live our busy lives, we tend to miss the signals that markets are changing. Of course, we know that change is happening quickly. We only need to monitor how technology improvements continue to accelerate. Facebook began just 10 years ago and Google – 15. And today, roughly half of all internet users get their information from mobile devices.
Farming is always changing too, and some of the changes are a result of technology. Of course, the seasonality of most types of farming makes change occur a little more slowly. But change, it does. If you are farming, is your style of farming and your farm product on the upswing or downswing? Are you taking advantage of technology? As we wind up the year 2014, we find that Maryland agriculture is witnessing several long-term trends, and a few emerging trends.
Comparing the 2007 and 2012 ag census figures, there are a few obvious long-term trends. For example, direct sales to consumers grew 32% between 2007 and 2012 and organic sales grew 118%. However, it is interesting to note that total acres of vegetables harvested declined 13% over the same period, while the total sales increased 25%. Are we seeing an increase in direct sales and a decrease in wholesale?
Acres of most specified fruits declined. Grape production is an exception, as the number of acres increased 33% between census years, reflecting the continued growth in wineries. Acres of land planted in corn dropped 5% between census years, while acres in soybeans increased 23%. Acres of land irrigated grew 13% to 104,910 acres, part of a long trend.
Sales of livestock, poultry and their products remained virtually unchanged in Maryland between 2007 and 2012. However, a huge drought in the west in 2012 has created several opportunities for meat producers in Maryland. According to an article in Agrimoney.com, the U.S. cattle herd is the smallest in 61 years and it will take until the end of the decade to rebuild the herd says Donnie Smith of Tyson Foods. Meanwhile beef and poultry producers are benefiting from the shortage of meat.
Direct sales of local beef and poultry is too new to show up as a trend to track through several ag censuses. However, in my travels around the state, I find that it is certainly an emerging trend. Another emerging trend is aquaculture. Sales grew from $4 million to $9 million between 2007 and 2012. With all of the new state permits for shellfish leases issued in the last few years, production is bound to increase.
It is important that farmers are aware of how their markets are trending. At Maryland FarmLINK we monitor social media and USDA data to try to keep you informed about trends affecting Maryland farmers through our Facebook page, our Twitter feed, and, of course, this blog.