Delaware farming reaps passing grade in national survey


The results from the USDA’s most recent poll of the nation’s farmers and ranchers were recently released. And Delaware is looking pretty good.

Every five years, the USDA polls farmers and ranchers across the country and compiles the results into the Census of Agriculture report, a data-driven look at the state of agriculture in the nation.

Results from the 2012 Census came out last month.

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And Delaware is looking pretty good.

It’s first in the nation in the value of agricultural products sold per acre. It’s also No. 1 in the amount of lima beans harvested per acre, and Sussex County is the top broiler chicken-producing county in the country.

“There’s 350 years of farming here,” said Mark Rieger, dean of the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. “You’re seeing third-, fourth-, fifth-generation people, sometimes even more.”

On top of the First State’s successful track record in agronomy, it also has the advantage of being close to large markets with high demand for food.

“There’s 35 million people who live within two hours of here,” Rieger said from the university’s Newark campus. “The real advantage of a farmer in this region is to have proximity to New York and [Washington,] D.C., and Philly.”

But while the size of the average farm is growing in the U.S., there are fewer people doing the work. “Sometimes sons and daughters don’t want to do what mom and dad did,” Rieger said.

That doesn’t mean he’s not optimistic. Rieger points to precision agriculture as a way to increase product yield and farming efficiency, an extension service that provides educational programming to residents, as well as USDA grants to cultivate young farmers.

“There’s an upsurge of young folks trying to get into it, and it is difficult,” he said.

To hear WHYY Morning Edition host Jennifer Lynn’s full conversation with Dean Mark Rieger, click the audio player above.

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