Over five years, Pennsylvania loses 6,000 farms

A yard sign that reads

A yard sign that reads "Save Our Local Dairy Farms" stand outside Reed's Creek Farm in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. (Min Xian/Keystone Crossroads)

The latest U.S. Department of Agriculture census makes obvious what many in the industry already suspected: Pennsylvania is losing farms.

More than 6,000 closed between 2012 and 2017. Lancaster County lost more than 500 farms, about a 10% drop.

Closer to Philadelphia, Chester County farms were down by 80 to 1,646; Delaware County lost 15 farms or 20%; and the number of Montgomery County farms slipped from 605 to 565.

Philadelphia defied the trend. The number small farms within the city limits more than doubled to 38.

The types of farms that survived or grew in number during the five-year period were either very small or very large. Most of the shuttered operations were between 10 and 500 acres.

“Generally speaking, you are talking about the typical family farm, midsized farm in this state, which has been the bread and butter of agriculture over the years,” said Pennsylvania Farm Bureau spokesman Mark O’Neill.

O’Neill said the two most likely reasons for the loss of farms are retirements and declining income.

The average age of Pennsylvania farmers is 56.

Total farm income actually increased from 2012 to 2017, but there were winners and losers. For example, dairy farmers have had a tough few years, while poultry farms have been doing well.

O’Neill said he’s particularly concerned about the more than 400,000 farm acres that were lost.

“That likely has been sold to development and no farming is being done on that, whether large, medium, or small,” he said.

You can explore data from the census here.

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