October 2, 2017

UConn: State agriculture nets $4B annually

PHOTO | Steve Jensen, CT Dept. of Agriculture
PHOTO | Steve Jensen, CT Dept. of Agriculture
Won Hee Lee arranges apples for sale at the Drazen Orchards farm stand in Cheshire.

Although Connecticut's manufacturing, technology, and insurance industries tend to overshadow agriculture, a newly released study from the University of Connecticut shows that farms and related businesses contribute significantly to the state's economy each year.

In a presentation Friday at Futtner's Family Farm on Silver Lane, Rigoberto A. Lopez, chairman of UConn's Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, said figures from 2015, the most recent available, show that agriculture infused as much as $4.05 billion into the state's economy that year, up from about $3.51 billion in 2010.

Agriculture also accounted for 21,000 jobs in 2015, Lopez said, about even with its payroll five years earlier. Farms generated $800 million to $900 million in wages for the year, he added.

The state's agricultural endeavors encompass a wide variety of operations, from vegetable, fruit, and ornamental plant growing, to dairy and beef cattle farming, to beekeepers, maple syrup producers, and wineries. The products are sold through 100 farmers' markets around the state, he said. Increasingly they're even being featured in area grocery stores as well, Lopez said.

Financial benefits extend beyond the immediate agricultural businesses to professionals ranging from veterinarians to soil biologists, he said.

Connecticut's farms and related businesses contribute far more to the state than money and jobs, U.S. Rep. Joseph D. Courtney, D-2nd District, said at Friday's event.

Farms contribute to Connecticut's "quality of life" in general, Courtney said, by conserving open space, which helps balance the environmental impact of the state's extensive urban development. Increasing public interest in locally grown food, the "farm-to-table" initiative, also is having a positive affect on local agriculture, he said.

State agriculture Commissioner Steven K. Reviczky said Friday he's hopeful the report will help residents appreciate more fully Connecticut's 405,000 acres of farmland and the people who work on them.

"Don't take for granted those fields" along the roadside, Reviczky said. In addition to their economic importance, he said, the state's working farms have a "critical impact" on maintaining Connecticut's remaining open land in the face of pressure to convert open space to non-agricultural use.

Amanda Freund of East Canaan, who described herself as a third-generation dairy farmer, said she often encounters skepticism from farmers in other parts of the Northeast that Connecticut actually has a viable agricultural component to its economy.

Studies like the one UConn released on Friday provide the statistical evidence to counter such skepticism, Freund said.

"We not only are here," she said of the state's farmers, "but we have a thriving agricultural industry."

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