WHAT IS AGRICULTURE?

State law provides a broad definition of agriculture. Connecticut General Statutes Section 1-1(q)defines “agri-culture” as the cultivation of the soil, dairying, forestry, and the raising or harvesting of any agricultural or horticultural commodity, including the care and management of livestock such as horses, bees, poultry, fur-bearing ani- mals and wildlife. Agriculture also includes the raising or harvesting of oysters, clams, mussels, other molluscan shellfish or fish; the production or harvestingof maple syrup or maple sugar; the hatching of poultry; and the harvesting of mushrooms. The term also includes the handling, planting, drying, packing, packaging, processing, freezing, grading, storing, or delivering to storage or to market any agricultural or horticultural commodityas an incident to ordinary farming operations, or, in the case of fruits and vegetables, as an incident to the preparationof such fruits and vegetables for market or for direct sale (see Appendix A, CGS § 1-1(q)).

The term “farm” is also defined broadly. A farm includes nurseries, orchards, farm and accessory buildings, green- houses, hoophouses and other “temporary structures or other structures used primarily for the raising and, as an incident to ordinary farming operations, the sale of agricultural or horticultural commodities” (see Appendix A,CGS § 1-1(q)).

Like other types of businesses, agriculture continues to evolve to meet changing consumer demand. The above definitions recognize that agriculture and farming are dynamic and offer farmers broad flexibility to adjust their farm operations to meet new market challenges and opportunities.

ECONOMIC BENEFITS: FARMS PROVIDE JOBS AND SUPPORT THE LOCAL ECONOMY

Connecticut’s agricultural industry represents a vital primary tier business sector that supports the existence of food manufacturers and processors, garden centers, veterinarians, farm equipment wholesalers, farm supply stores, machinery repair shops and wholesale fuel suppliers.

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates indicate that in 2006, farm businesses in Connecticut generated $523 million in cash receipts — second highest in New England — with greenhouse, nursery and dairy contributing the highest percentage of receipts.1 Connecticut farms reported production expenses of over $397 million in 2002, much of which was spent locally.2

According to the USDA, there are over 19,200 workers employed on farms in the state.3 By comparison, employment in the state’s building and construction industry is 19,020.4

  • 1Income is measured in terms of cash receipts. U.S. Department of Agriculture &emdash; National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS): New England Cash Receipts, 2006.
  • 2NASS, Census of Agriculture, 2002.
  • 3Includes farm operators and workers. NASS, Census of Agriculture, 2002.
  • 4Includes residential and industrial construction labor estimates. U.S. Census Bureau, Economic Census, 2002.

FISCAL BENEFITS: FARM AND FOREST LANDS HELP MAINTAIN LOWER PROPERTY TAXES

Cost of Community Services (COCS) studies use municipal data to determine the fiscal contribution of various local land uses. These case studies compare the cost of municipal services needed for farm and forest land, residential, and commercial and industrial property to the revenues generated from these lands. Over 20 years of COCS studies around the country have shown that farmland and other open space generate more public revenue than they require in municipal services. Even when farmland is assessed at its current agricultural use value under Public Act 490, farmland generates a surplus to help offset the shortfall created by residential demand for public services.6 A review of COCS research in eight Connecticut towns shows that for each dollar of property tax revenue generated by working lands, on average only 31 cents is required in municipal services.

ENVIRONMENTAL BENEFITS: FARMS PROTECT WATER QUALITY AND NATURAL RESOURCES

As a natural resource-based business, farms depend on adequate land, good soils, favorable climate conditions and clean water. In turn, farmers and the land they steward provide a variety of environmental benefits.

These include:

  • Maintaining or increasing biodiversity
  • Providing fish and wildlife habitat
  • Improving surface and groundwater quality by filtering water
  • Reducing flooding by slowing runoff and providing recharge areas
  • Improving air quality by filtering air and producing oxygen
  • Reducing carbon emissions by reducing reliance on foods, feeds and horticulture products that need to be shipped from long distances
  • Retaining soil for plant growth
  • Absorbing and sequestering carbon

SCENIC & RECREATIONAL BENEFITS: WORKING FARMS PROVIDE RURAL CHARACTER AND ATTRACT TOURISTS

Working farms help define the Connecticut landscape and attract tourists to the state. A town’s natural features—its cropland, pastures and woodlands—and their barns and stone walls, provide community identity, rural character and an important link to the state’s history and culture.

The open space provided by farms offers valuable opportunities for recreation. While not all farms provide public access, many farmers allow their land to be used for walking, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling or horseback riding. Rural roads near farms offer scenic views for biking, running, walking and even driving.

In addition to making Connecticut an attractive place to live, farms help make the state a desirable place for people to visit. Wineries, pick-your-own farms, corn mazes and other agritourism businesses are direct draws for tourists. Working farms also help define the scenery that people enjoy on country drives and visits to communities around the state.

AGRICULTURE IN CONNECTICUT TODAY

Working farms help define the Connecticut landscape and attract tourists to the state.

Connecticut is a state of small farms. With an average farm size of 85 acres, the state has the third smallest average in the U.S. More than half of the 4,000 farms in the state are fewer than 50 acres. The loss of farmland has led to increased farm fragmentation, requiring farmers to farm smaller parcels in multiple communities. As a result, Connecticut farmers typically face varying local regulations that impact their farming activities.

Like elsewhere in the U.S., farmers in Connecticut are aging; the average age of a farm operator is 55. However, there is increasing interest among new and young farmers, particularly those seeking to take advantage of the growing demand for locally grown products.

To meet consumer demand, farmers are changing the products they raise and increasing direct-to-consumer retail sales. Connecticut farms today produce and sell a diverse range of items, including: goat cheese, black currant juice, wine, eastern oysters, manure flower pots, ice cream, fruit brandy, potted flowers, wool, green beans and grass-fed beef.

Connecticut farms are repositioning to take advantage of several new consumer trends.

  • Located along the New York-to-Boston corridor with over 30 million consumers nearby, Connecticut farms are able to respond to the increasing demand for locally grown agriculture products. In fact, Connecticut has the third highest average of per farm direct-to-consumer sales in the U.S. Other examples of this trend are the number of farmers' markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farms in the state.
  • Agriculture tourism is one of the fastest growing segments of the Connecticut tourism industry, growing about 33 percent annually.
  • Growing interest in the renewable energy industry has led to proposals for three new power plants in Connecticut that would run on branches, stumps and other biomass.
  • Research programs are currently underway at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station growing soybean and rapeseed (canola) to determine yield and use for biodiesel production. These crops are of interest because they can also be used for feedstock, cover crops, fertilizer or to control plant parasitic nematodes.
  • Farms are taking advantage of home gardening and landscaping needs by marketing composted soil amendments. This trend has an added benefit: in using municipal wastes such as leaves, farmers are reducing the volume of local waste and waste management costs.
  • Dairy farms are joining together to create regional facilities to compost manure. Regional nutrient management systems are best suited in areas with clusters of dairy farms such as the Canaan Valley where the first facility is scheduled to be constructed. In addition to addressing waste management, farmers plan to market the compost.

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