by George Looby, DVM
The impact of agriculture on the economy of Connecticut has been the object of a study by faculty members and graduate students at the University of Connecticut, whose findings were released last fall. The findings revealed that Connecticut agriculture is extremely diverse and not typical of that found in larger states in the Midwest and beyond. Being a highly-urbanized state, the demand for certain types of agricultural crops is quite different from that found in other areas of the country. Agriculture in Connecticut is increasingly focused on the green industries which includes greenhouses and nurseries, floriculture and sod production, and others. More traditional activities such as egg and poultry production and dairying still play a significant role.
Greenhouse and nursery production sales make up the largest segments of the four billion dollars in sales generated annually by agricultural activities, this number determined by the University of Connecticut Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy. This study by the Zwick Center represents the most comprehensive overview of agriculture’s contribution to the state’s economy since 2010. A major goal of the study was to increase awareness about the larger role the agricultural industry plays in the state’s economy and to provide quantitative information for decision making and resource allocation directed at the agricultural industries.
The study, led by Dr. Rigoberto Lopez, director of the Zwick Center, stated that agriculture is a vital part of Connecticut’s economy. Farmland accounts for 440,000 acres, 13 percent of the state’s 3.2 million acres. The state’s 4,916 farms rank first in New England in terms of market value per farm and per acre. Overall agriculture generates more than 21,000 jobs and $800,000 in annual wages. On a per capita basis, the agricultural economy generates about $1,100 in sales per Connecticut resident.
In order to quantify the economic impact of agriculture on the state’s economy the UConn researchers first had to identify what was being counted. The study defined the agricultural industry “as encompassing crop and livestock production, forest products and the processing of the state’s agricultural production.” The study used three models of the Connecticut economy to capture the scope of the agricultural industry, its links to the rest of the state economy, and to assess its contribution to statewide output and jobs.
Some of the highlights of the study include:
- Each dollar in sales generated by the agricultural industry creates an additional dollar’s worth of economic activity statewide.
- The total economic impact of agricultural and forest production to the gross state product was approximately two billion dollars, while the impact of the agricultural processing sector was also two billion dollars with more than one half of that generated by dairy processing.
- The agricultural production sector generates between 13 and 19 jobs per million dollars in sales, more than twice the number of jobs generated by agricultural processing activities.
- The highest job creators per million dollars in sales are support activities for agriculture, greenhouse, nursery and floriculture; tobacco farming; animal production and commercial fishing.
- More than 20,000 (0.9 percent) of the 2.2 million jobs known to exist in Connecticut were held by people employed either directly or indirectly in agriculture during 2015. Agricultural and forest production activities generated two thirds of those jobs (14,000) while primary agricultural processing activities added another 7,000.
- The sectors that grew the most between 2007 and 2015 include value-added and specialty crops, including wineries, vegetable and fruit farming, fluid milk manufacturing, egg production and aquaculture. Those sectors that saw a decline during the same period include tobacco farming, commercial fishing and commercial logging.
Dr. Lopez noted that along with the impact of sales, employment and wages, the agricultural industry provides significant non-market social benefits and ecosystem services that were beyond the scope of this study. There were additional secondary factors that were excluded from this study. These include landscaping, grounds keeping, bakerie and distilling. It was felt by the members of the research team that including these functions in the study at this time would tend to overstate the projected output and job impacts attributable directly to the states agriculture.
Additional factors that were not included in the study were the value of ecosystem services, scenic views and other non-market social benefits directly attributable to the states agriculture. Among the newer components that contribute to the overall benefits that agriculture provides is that of carbon sequestration. The study estimates that all of the agricultural land in Connecticut sequestered approximately 14,900 metric tons of CO2 in 2015. This is equivalent to taking approximately 3,200 passenger vehicles off the road. Assuming the social cost of carbon to be $13 to $120 per metric ton of CO2 the total value of this process is between $187,000 and $1.8 million per year.
Agritourism continues to grow as a concept becoming an increasingly important component of the overall economics of Connecticut agriculture. Locally grown produce has grown in popularity at a remarkable rate over the past decade and CSA has contributed to this growth. Pick your own activities continue to gain in popularity especially for apples and berries. In the fall pumpkin, corn and sunflower mazes challenge are also a draw.
Connecticut agriculture is flexible, open to new opportunities as they present themselves, and ever ready to meet the demands of its customer base. Some of the old traditional crops have had to give way due to a variety of reasons ranging from health concerns to factors due to climate change but new ones seem always ready to take their place. It is an exciting and challenging time for Connecticut agriculture.