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Census finds Virginia’s smallest and largest farms increased in number

Census finds Virginia’s smallest and largest farms increased in number

RICHMOND—The 2017 U.S. Census of Agriculture found that the overall number of Virginia farms decreased, but the numbers of its smallest and largest farms increased.

The number of farms with 1 to 9 acres increased from 3,343 in 2012 to 4,595 in 2017. Farms of 2,000 or more acres increased from 366 in 2012 to 374 five years later.

“The trend is toward farm sizes on the extremes,” noted Wilmer Stoneman, vice president of agriculture, development and innovation for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “Large farms are consolidating and getting larger because of depressed commodity prices. And there seem to be more smaller farms to meet consumers’ increased desire for local foods.”

The top 10 counties for small farms are Rockingham with 300; Augusta, 238; Loudoun, 207; Washington, 200; Shenandoah, 139; Fauquier, 136; Bedford, 134; Frederick, 124; Scott, 108; and Albemarle, 100.

The top 10 localities with the largest farms are Southampton with 52; Fauquier, 46; Augusta, 43; Tazewell, 41; Albemarle, 39; Pittsylvania, 34; Culpeper, 32; Bedford and Isle of Wight, 31 each; Suffolk, 30; and Halifax, 28.

Four counties fall in both categories: Albemarle, Augusta, Bedford and Fauquier.

Stoneman said those counties are leaders in livestock production and home to larger cattle farms and smaller farms raising animals for meat sales direct to consumers.

U.S. Department of Agriculture State Statistician Herman Ellison reported that Virginia vegetable sales are up 21% from 2012 and that fruit sales are up 16%. “We are seeing more small farms start up,” Ellison noted. “Small farmers are very important to Virginia agriculture.”

Four of the top counties with small farms are just outside the Washington metropolitan area: Fauquier, Frederick, Loudoun and Shenandoah. Two of the top counties are in the far southwestern part of the state on the Virginia-Tennessee border.

Phil Blevins, a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Washington County, said there are plenty of people trying to farm there, but “for the most part it’s people on a small scale, maybe a half-acre or an acre, farmers market-type people.

“There’s been a big uptick in that the past few years,” he noted. “The farmers market in Abingdon, for example, is very popular in this area.”

Stoneman said that no matter what the size of the farm, “Virginia’s agricultural diversity can support them all.”

Media: Contact Stoneman at 804-290-1024.