Maryland near top in value of its farms

Agriculture: Maryland, with the fifth-most expensive farmland in the nation, also claims among the highest revenue per acre.

January 23, 1999|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

The corn yields are higher in Iowa and some might argue that the peaches are better in Georgia, but when it comes to producing the most money from each acre of land farmed, not many states top Maryland.

Maryland ranks eighth in the nation in terms of the value of crops produced per acre of land, according to a recent survey by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"Farm gate sales, the average revenue for each acre of farmland, is $733 in Maryland," said Ray Garibay, chief statistician with the Maryland Agricultural Statistics Service.

Maryland ranks just behind California, which generated $843 per acre in 1997, the latest year for which figures are available.

"Maryland has been called America in miniature for its diversity of geography," said Thomas Fretz, dean of the University of Maryland, College Park's College of Agriculture and Natural Resources. "You might say Maryland is California in miniature when it comes to agriculture."

Fretz said the USDA survey shows that "agriculture is still a healthy industry in Maryland, generating a lot of income. It demonstrates the richness and the diversity of the industry here."

Economics dictates that high-value land demands high-value crops, said James Hanson, assistant director of the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension.

Maryland has the fifth-most expensive farmland in the nation.

The price of an average acre of farmland here, including the buildings, rose 3 percent last year, to $4,120. Only Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island have more expensive per-acre costs.

A concentration of poultry producers on the Eastern Shore has a significant impact on average revenue per acre of farmland in the state. Turp Garrett, a Cooperative Extension agent in Worcester County, estimated that a farm with two broiler houses on a small plot of land can generate more than $42,000 a year in cash receipts.

The economic impact of the poultry industry has Delaware at the top of the list in value of agriculture. Revenue per acre of farmland there averaged $1,323.

Tobacco, grown mostly in Southern Maryland, helps boost the state's revenue average. In a good year, tobacco growers can reap $3,000 per acre planted.

The popularity of farm fresh fruits and vegetables also benefits state growers. Garibay said farmers produced $79 million worth of sweet corn, green beans, squash, tomatoes and other vegetables last year.

Hanson noted that an increasing number of fruit and vegetable farmers are boosting their sales by marketing directly to the urban population between Richmond, Va., and Philadelphia.

The fast-growing greenhouse and nursery industry is another factor pushing up Maryland's revenue per acre.

Fretz said a nursery might have 30,000 potted plants, selling for $4 apiece, on an acre of land.

Maryland greenhouse and nursery operations benefit from reduced shipping expenses to suburban population centers in the mid-Atlantic region.

State grain farmers even have an advantage over their counterparts in Iowa when it comes to growing corn for grain. Because Maryland is a grain-deficit area -- the chickens raised here consume more grain than is produced in the state -- farmers are paid a premium for their corn and soybeans.

Lynne Hoot, executive director of the Maryland Grain Producers Association, said state farmers receive 40 cents a bushel more for their corn than Midwestern farmers.

Pub Date: 1/23/99

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