Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Agriculture's role in state economy a significant one, says new report

Adrienne Severance of Chester, clutching a dried cornstalk and contemplating her fall decorating scheme, sees a silver lining in the current economic woes as she shops at Scott's Yankee Farmer in East Lyme.

"Maybe the recession has been good because the builders are not tearing down as much land," she said.

Severance was referring to her support for Connecticut's agricultural economy and places like Scott's, a family-owned business that has 130 acres under production as well as a popular farmstand.

"I support them 100 percent," said another customer, Jill Henderson of East Lyme, who shops at Scott's regularly during its April-to-December season. "They've been here a long, long time, and hopefully that will continue."

The idea of continuing the state's farm traditions got a boost Monday with the release of a University of Connecticut report showing that agriculture in Connecticut contributes up to $3.5 billion annually and 22,000 jobs to the state economy.

Other "value-added" impacts of agriculture - money that circulates back to other individuals and businesses in the state - bring as much as an additional $1.7 billion in economic value, said the study, which is based on 2007 numbers and is considered the first of its kind.

"These estimated output impacts are significantly higher than the $2 billion figure used in political circles in the Connecticut Legislature," according to the report, titled Economic Impacts of Connecticut's Agriculture Industry. "On a per capita basis, the agricultural industry generates approximately $1,000 in sales per Connecticut resident."

In New London County alone, according to figures, the agricultural output was $290 million.

Karen Scott, co-owner of Scott's with husband Tom and one of five family members who regularly works on the East Lyme farm, said it's nice that agriculture's contribution to the Connecticut economy and lifestyle is finally being acknowledged.

"People want us to stay here; they want us to succeed," Scott said. "Over the last couple years ... more people are buying local."

All those local buyers add up to agriculture accounting for about 1.65 percent of Connecticut's $212 billion economy, according to the UConn study, which excluded such areas as landscaping and food processing that uses out-of-state ingredients.

Rigoberto Lopez, the report's lead researcher and head of UConn's Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, undertook the study after being approached by farm-oriented organizations looking for more leverage in making their case for laws that support agriculture. The agricultural groups helped offset the study's cost to taxpayers, which Lopez put at less than $20,000.

"This underscores the importance of agriculture in our small piece of the world," said Steven Reviczky, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association. "For a long time, people looked at agriculture in Connecticut as something that occurred in the past. The reality is, Connecticut agriculture is evolving and growing."

Reviczky said agricultural interests are looking for legislators and local officials to give farms the flexibility to change with the times as they grapple with how to remain profitable in a challenging economy.

Last year's so-called Pickle Bill gave farmers the chance to bottle their own relishes and salsa, among other products. Previously, the legislature had OK'd farms' right to produce jellies and jams.

Scott, who already has various pick-your-own offerings, a cider mill, doughnut shop and corn maze, says she will begin making jams and jellies in November, taking advantage of relaxed regulations to boost sales.

Yet, while the direct effect of increased sales at farmstands is easy to measure, such intangibles as farms' relationship to the tourism industry, the social benefits of rural living and the positive effects of agriculture on the ecosystem are harder to pinpoint. For UConn's Lopez, though, there's little doubt that businesses benefit from the spinoff effects of maintaining a rural landscape.

"Farmers markets, farmstands and farm-to-table events can boost sales for area businesses," he said in a statement.

And, unlike in major agricultural states, most of Connecticut's agricultural output is consumed locally.

"Consumers really want to know where their food is coming from," Reviczky said. "They're demanding locally grown."


• Greenhouses and nurseries are the largest agricultural sector statewide, accounting for nearly half of the state's product sales.

• Fairfield County leads the state in agricultural production, with annual output topping $1 billion. Second and third are New Haven and Hartford counties, with output of $897 million and $866 million respectively.

• New London's agricultural production is nearly $300 million.

• Farmland in Connecticut makes up 405,616 acres, or about 13 percent of the state's land mass. The state's farms rank first in New England for their market value per farm and per acre.

Source: Economic Impacts of Connecticut's Agriculture Industry

No comments:

Post a Comment