Many people today associate Pennsylvania with heavy industries, such as coal and steel, forgetting the presence of another major industry – agriculture. Farming has been a major part of Pennsylvania culture for centuries. In fact, one of the theories behind the “Keystone State” moniker is that Pennsylvania was a combination of Northern industries and Southern agriculture, making it a true keystone of the original colonies. And even today, agriculture remains a major component of our state’s economy.
As the latest Census of Agriculture showed, Pennsylvania farmers sold more than $7.4 billion worth of agricultural products in 2012 and have nearly 60,000 farms and ranches on more than 7.7 million acres of land. The land area dedicated to farming in Pennsylvania is larger than the total areas of at least 8 states in the nation.
In addition to the conventional commodities, such as corn, soybeans, or wheat, Pennsylvania farmers grow many unique crops. For example, few people realize that about half of all mushrooms grown in the United States come from Pennsylvania with sales of nearly $530 million in 2012. We also have the greatest number of farms among all states (593) growing vegetables and herbs in greenhouses. The number of farms growing fruit in this manner is significantly lower across the nation, but Pennsylvania’s 58 farms in this category once again put us in first place.
It’s not only our commodities that make Pennsylvania stand out. We also have the fourth youngest group of farmers in the United States at an average of 56.1 years. And while the total number of farms in Pennsylvania has dropped slightly over the past five years, we have a good influx of new farmers. As of 2012, we had 7,465 new farmers, or those who have operated any farm for 4 years or less.
I am encouraged to see new trends making inroads into Pennsylvania agriculture. For example, the 2012 Census counted 600 farms that are either certified organic or exempt from certification. In the area of direct farm marketing, in 2012, 7,577 of Pennsylvania farms sold their products directly to consumers. And beyond agricultural production, 729 of our farms offered agri-tourism and other recreational services.
As you can see, Pennsylvania is not just steel and coal country. Agriculture is at the core of our state. This was just a small sample of what Pennsylvania farming has to offer. For more Pennsylvania information from the latest Census, check out www.agcensus.usda.gov.