Delaware’s agricultural ranking among states remains high

 

DOVER — The just-released Delaware Agricultural Statistics Bulletin that covers the 2016-2017 season compares the state’s commodity output against the rest of the states in the country.

“For the first time outside of the Ag Census, we have a comparison of Delaware’s production and rank for various commodities that we produce,” said the state’s Secretary of Agriculture Michael Scuse.

“Our farmers continue to be leaders in growing chickens, with the majority of grain produced going back to feed our poultry and livestock. We also continue to be among the top 20 states for the fresh grown fruits and vegetables that our consumers demand.”

According to the bulletin, the state is the nation’s eighth largest producer of “commercial broiler” chickens by poundage and 11th by number of birds — accounting for 3.4 percent and 2.9 percent respectively of the nation’s total production. Other top rankings include sweet corn (10th), watermelons (11th), cucumbers (12th) and barley (13th). This all while being the nation’s second smallest state — a modest 2,500 square miles.

The bulk of the bulletin’s data spans over the five growing seasons between 2012 and 2016 in an attempt to catalogue trends. The 18-page document includes a variety of statistics from average farm real estate value and corn for grain planted and harvested per acre to total acreage of farms in the state and total livestock inventory.

The report indicates that both corn and soybean yields and production have remained fairly static over the past five years, but chicken production has been steadily increasing. The state produced 40 million more chickens in 2016 than it did in 2012. Land value has also been on the rise. Clocking in at $8,150 per acre on average in 2012, it increased to $8,400 per acre in 2016. This comes in well above the U.S. average of $3,010 per acre in 2016, but closer to regional competitors like New Jersey ($12,800 per acre), Maryland ($7,060 per acre) and Pennsylvania ($5,500).

The number of farms in the state has increased over the five-year span from 2,450 to 2,500, but the total acreage in farmland has dropped about 10,000 acres.

Delaware’s Department of Agriculture (DDA) has been putting together statistical bulletins since the late 1970s, said management analyst Debbie Lindgren.

“The data is compiled from thousands of different voluntary surveys we send out,” she said. “Then it’s compiled, edited, aggregated and published.”

The DDA strongly urges all Delawareans to participate in the Census of Agriculture.

“Answers to the census tell the story of Delaware agriculture,” said Secretary Scuse. “The bulletin helps demonstrate the importance of agriculture’s contribution to the state’s economy.”

The full bulletin will be available for viewing soon by visiting agriculture.delaware.gov/.

Sneak Peek: 2017 stats

Although next year’s bulletin is a long way off, the DDA still releases limited data after it’s collected. In mid-January, the DDA already reported a recording-breaking 2017 yield for soybeans in the state.

Delaware was one of nine states to break record high yields for soybeans with yields of 51 bushels per acre, up 22.9 percent from 2016.

Delaware produced more than 8 million bushels of soybeans in 2017.

“When we look at the USDA’s production summary it confirms what we saw as we moved throughout the state,” said Sec. Scuse.

“We had good weather and Delaware farmers were able to get into the fields at key points throughout the season.

Yields such as we had in 2017 are good news for our farmers, and for poultry growers and processors who use much of the grain grown here for feed.”

The Mid-Atlantic region including Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Virginia all saw record high yields for soybean production. Much of this was attributed to the weather and proper planting time.

This past year’s corn crop was also high — the third biggest yield recorded with 189 bushels per acre, up 11.2 percent from 2016.

Other notable crop records for Delaware included winter wheat up 8.9 percent at 73 bushels per acre from 2016. All hay area harvested produced a yield of 3.28 tons per acre with 59,000 tons produced.

Although, it’s thought that pumpkin yields may have taken a beating.

In October, this paper reported that several top pumpkin growers in the state noted that their yields suffered from heavy, continuous rain during the growing season. For some, this meant a total “wipeout” of their crop.

Rick Dickerson — likely the third largest pumpkin grower in the state — said nothing was left of the 40 acres he planted in Laurel last year.

Roland Pepper, owner of Mr. Pepper’s Pumpkin Patch in Laurel, suffered the same fate.

Fifer Orchards, the largest pumpkin grower in the state by a comfortable margin with 550 acres, said they too struggled with the weather, but still came though with a decent crop.

“Our crop this year was just a little off,” Curt Fifer, one of the orchard’s owner/operators, said in October. “We think that the rainy and cloudy summer may have had some effect on pollination with our earlier planted pumpkins.”

However, the assertion that the state-wide yield suffered is based on anecdotal evidence. The DDA notes that their office has stopped tracking hard data on pumpkin production — likely because of low total output.

“We did stop tracking pumpkins this year,” said Ms. Lindgren. “The National Agricultural Statistics Service in Washington D.C. makes the determination about what commodity information will be gathered at the federal level. Basically they use the proportion of a state’s contribution to the total production in the country to determine that.”

The full Crop Production 2017 Summary is available online at nass.usda.gov/Publications. The report contains year-end acreage, yield and production estimates for grains and hay; oilseeds; cotton, tobacco and sugar; dry beans, peas and lentils; and potatoes and miscellaneous crops.

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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