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Massachusetts agriculture and food self -sufficiency: An analysis of change from 1974 through 1997

David Lee Holm, University of Massachusetts Amherst


Despite an agricultural legacy originating in Colonial times, Massachusetts experienced a serious decline in agriculture during the decades following the Second World War. An up-to-date report was needed to identify changes in the state of Massachusetts agriculture at the end of the twentieth-century. Data for this analysis came from U.S. government statistical reports. The last six U.S. Census of Agriculture reports, from 1974 to 1997, were consistent in defining a farm as an operation with over $1,000 in sales, allowing data comparisons. Contrary to national trends, the number of farms in Massachusetts increased and average farm size decreased. Large nominal increases in farm product sales and net farm income were real increases with dollars adjusted by the Producer Price Index for farm products. The top agricultural products group was fruits, nuts, and berries; second was nursery and greenhouse. Dairy sales, the third highest group, remained stable, even though the number of dairy farms declined. Still a New England leader in apples, Massachusetts lost land in orchards and farms with orchards. Massachusetts was a national leader in direct marketing, with highest direct market sales per farm. Debt-to-asset ratios and rates of return indicated strengthened financial positions relative to farmers nationwide. Trends posing concern included: continued loss of land on farms and cropland, older average age of farmers with fewer younger farmers, and escalating costs of farmland making new entry difficult. Food self-sufficiency, as measured by the difference between retail value of food production and value of consumption, increased from 13.7 percent in 1975 to 17.8 percent in 1997. Self-sufficiency decreased in livestock and livestock products, remained unchanged in seafood, and increased in fruits and vegetables. New England overall self-sufficiency remained at 28 percent. A case study illustrates a farmer's adaptation to new market conditions. Strategies included direct marketing through pick-your-own and roadside stand operations; value-added production through a farm bakery; agri-tourism enterprises; and reorganized employee and financial management. The farmer received financial and consulting assistance through the Agriculture Preservation Restriction and Farm Viability Enhancement Programs. Massachusetts successfully reversed earlier downward trends and deserves well-earned respect for revitalization of its agriculture.

Subject Area

Agriculture|Agricultural economics

Recommended Citation

Holm, David Lee, "Massachusetts agriculture and food self -sufficiency: An analysis of change from 1974 through 1997" (2001). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3027207.