Survey shows local food thriving nationwide

Associate Editor

WASHINGTON (Feb. 28, 2017) — Maryland ranked 24th nationwide in revenue generated from local farm food sold through direct marketing practices in 2015, according to a recent USDA survey that illustrates a thriving, multi-billion dollar agricultural sector across the nation.
More than 1,800 Maryland farms brought in about $84.3 million through food marketed locally — part of $8.7 billion more than 167,000 farms collected nationwide, data from the department’s first Local Food Marketing Practices Survey show.
California with $2.9 billion in revenue ranked No. 1.
Regionally, Virginia was ranked ninth with $217.3 million. Delaware was not included in the survey.
The report’s results cover both fresh and value-added foods such as meat and cheese. Almost half of Maryland’s revenue take was from value-added food.
“It’s an interesting survey and, in general, the demand for local remains strong,” said Mark Powell, chief of marketing at the Maryland Department of Agriculture.
One particular finding that struck the department, Powell said: Of the total number of farms marketing food locally, 524 — about 40 percent — have been producing and selling directly less than five years, reflecting, potentially, a growing interest among young farmers. That could be due to the limitations many young farmers find, said Amy Crone, executive director at the Maryland Farmer’s Market Association.
“A lot of new and beginning farmers have very little access to land,” she said.
The growing number of farmer’s markets, however, has in some cases hurt the sales of on-farm sellers, Powell said, as they compete with more farmers.
They also face added competition from grocery stores that have increasingly opened their shelves to local and organic foods, he said.
“There’s a lot of competition for local products in the state of Maryland,” he said.
Nationwide, of the $8.7 billion, about $3.4 billion was sold directly to institutions and intermediaries such as wholesalers or food hubs who locally branded the product.
About $3 billion was sold directly to consumers through operations such as on-farm stores and farmers markets. About $2.3 billion was sold directly to retailers.
In Virginia, 3,415 farms reported direct sales and was ranked fourth nationwide for direct-to-consumers sales with $155 million.
“Virginia agriculture includes various multiple enterprises within its industry portfolio,” said Tony Banks, a commodity marketing specialist for the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation, in a statement. “This survey illustrates how robust local food sales are in Virginia and across the nation.”
Though Delaware’s data was not included in the survey, the state’s department of agriculture recently announced that Delaware farmer’s markets reported $2.9 million in sales in 2016 — a slight decrease from 2015’s record-breaking year of about $3 million in sales. The state monitors sales at 25 community-run markets.
“It was a profitable season for most of the markets if you factor in a very wet spring and a dry, humid August that affected attendance,” said David Smith, the department’s marketing specialist, in a statement. “Many of our markets battled somewhat inclement weather by offering live music, cooking demonstrations and fun festivals focusing on a specific commodity, and operating under a ‘ran or shine’ policy.”