As the number of farms declined in Massachusetts, so did the land in agriculture. The total amount of land in farms decreased from 577,637 acres in 1997, to 518,570 acres in 2002. The average farm size in Massachusetts declined steadily from over 130 acres per farm in 1974 to 79 acres in 1997. With the exit of many smaller farms between 1997 and 2002, the average farm size increased to 85 acres in 2002. The total amount of land in farms further decreased to 517,879 acres in 2007, which implies a 0.13 percent decline as compared to 2002. The average size of farm also declined to 67 acres in 2007 as the number of small farms increased between the 2002 and 2007 Agricultural Censuses.
Traditional farm types hold the most farmland
In terms of farm numbers, the top three types of farming in Massachusetts are: hay farming; horses and other equine production; and fruit and tree nut farming. However, which types of farming hold the greatest amounts of farmland? Open farmland is an important feature of the Massachusetts landscape. Hay farming is not only the most common type of farming, but it also holds the greatest amount of farmland with 142,100 acres, about 27 percent of the Commonwealth's farmland. Hay farms tend to be large by Massachusetts standards, with an average of about 111 acres per farm. The average Massachusetts farm is 67 acres in size. Fruit and tree nut farming checks in at number two, accounting for just over 68,000 acres of Massachusetts' farmland, nearly 13 percent of the Commonwealth's total. Within fruit and tree nut farming there are about 77 acres per farm on average. When combined, these two types of farming represent just over 40 percent of the state's farmland.
Dairy farming in Massachusetts accounts for more than 65,000 acres of farmland, about 13 percent of the total. Dairy farms are the Commonwealth's largest farms on average; each dairy farm is nearly 254 acres in size. Hay farming and dairy farming are related as hay farms provide forage for dairy farms as well as the horse farms within the state. Thus, the tenuous state of dairy farming in the Commonwealth has implications for the importance of farmland and open space preservation in Massachusetts. A number of farm types (other crop farming; beef cattle; greenhouse, nursery and floriculture; vegetable and melon farming) represent between 25,000 and 50,000 acres of farmland. Each of these represents between 4.8 and 9.8 percent of the Commonwealth's total farmland. Horse and equine production, despite being one of the most numerous farm types, represents about 5.4 percent of the Commonwealth's total farmland with around 28,000 acres in Massachusetts farm land.