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Rhode Island’s Ag sector grows: Continued federal incentives announced

Total number of farms, working land and value of production up significantly

With the new growing season under way, Rhode Island farmers and consumers are celebrating the first crops of the year and the opening of farmers’ markets around the state, and have also received two welcome pieces of news from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The USDA announced in May that it has provided $4.2 million in funding to Rhode Island’s National Resources Conservation Service to preserve farmland. The funding comes from the Farm and Ranch Lands Protection Program and will be used to purchase farmland conservation easements. “This program helps ensure that valuable, productive land is protected,” said Rhode Island State Conservationist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture Phoukham Vongkhamdy. NRCS will accept funding proposals until June 20 from state and local governments, tribal leaders and non-government organizations.

News of the USDA conservation funding followed an earlier report from the 2007 Census of Agriculture that showed Rhode Island has experienced a significant growth in agriculture. The 2007 Census will be available in hard copy in July, 2009. The Census, which is conducted every five years, showed that the number of farms in Rhode Island in 2007 was 1,219, up 42 percent from 2002. This is the highest percentage increase in New England, and likely the highest in the country. The land in farms totaled 67,819 acres, up 11 percent from 2002. The market value of production totaled $65.9 million, up 19 percent.

The Census results also demonstrated the positive impacts of some of the new marketing strategies that Rhode Island farmers have adopted. As a result of the increased use of CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture arrangements), farmstands and farmers’ markets, direct market sales increased from $3.697 million in 2002 to $6.292 million in 2007, and twenty percent of Rhode Island farms reported direct market sales. The value of organic sales totaled $1.2 million, up from $270,000 in 2002, and agritourism income totaled $689,000, up from $23,000 in 2002.

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