Consumers seen driving increase in Conn. farms

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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The number of farms in Connecticut jumped by 22 percent over five years, bucking a national trend in which the total declined country-wide, a federal census reported Thursday.

The survey, which is taken every five years, shows 5,977 farms in 2012, up from 4,916 in 2007. Farm size also was up, to 436,405 acres from 405,616 acres, an 8 percent rise.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a news release hailing the census results that he expects farm size to increase with more land being brought into production as a result of the Farmland Restoration Program he initiated.

George Krivda, legislative program manager at the state Department of Agriculture, called the census results good news and said part of the credit goes to rising demand for locally grown food.

"All of it is great, and it all speaks to the average consumer who's more in touch with where food comes," he said.

The positive results also were helped by state efforts enlisting farmers to participate in the survey, Krivda said.

Possibly due to the deep recession and weak economic recovery, the market value of agricultural products sold fell slightly, to $550.6 million from $551.5 million.

Nationally, the market value of crops, livestock and total agricultural products were at record highs. Farms in the United States sold almost $395 billion in products in 2012, 33 percent higher than in 2007.

Unlike in Connecticut, across the United States, 2.1 million farms operated in 2012, down about 4 percent from 2007. That follows a long-term trend of declining numbers nationally.

Krivda said state officials are cautious in their response to the survey, saying the statistics could be slightly off because of what may be counted.

"We're not giddy with unrealistic, unsubstantiated happiness," he said. "We think we've done a better job helping our farmer, but I wouldn't want to live or die on the statistics."

Connecticut's farm sector is small relative to other states. For example, its acreage is dwarfed by Maine, where farms totaled nearly 1.5 million acres. Krivda said Connecticut's energy costs are higher because unlike Maine, it does not have access to abundant hydropower.

Still, agriculture officials were buoyed by the survey's results.

"It's validation that we're on the right track," Krivda said.

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