Between 1997 and 2002, as the number of farms declined in Massachusetts, so did the total 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 (Figure 3.2). 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, a very small 0.13 percent decline when compared to 2002. However, the 2012 Census shows a modest increase in the total amount of land in farms, with a 1.1 percent increase to 523,517 acres. The increase in the number of farms and the increase in farm size seem to have occurred proportionally to one another; the average size of farm also remained at around 67 acres between 2007 and 2012.
Traditional farm types hold the most farmland
In terms of farm numbers, the 2012 top three types of farming in Massachusetts are: horses and other equine production; hay farming; and greenhouse, nursery, and floriculture. 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 second most common type of farming, but it holds the greatest amount of farmland with 116,980 acres, about 22 percent of the Commonwealth's farmland. Hay farms tend to be large by Massachusetts standards, with an average of about 107 acres per farm compared to the average Massachusetts farm, which is 67 acres in size. Fruit, tree nut and berry farms check in at number two, accounting for just over 80,568 acres of Massachusetts' farmland, 15.4 percent of the Commonwealth's total. Fruit and tree nut farms also tend to be relatively large by Massachusetts standards, there are about 103 acres per farm on average. When combined, these two types of farming represent about 38 percent of the state's farmland.
Dairy farming in Massachusetts accounts for more than 50,000 acres of farmland, about 9.6 percent of the total. Dairy farms are the Commonwealth's largest farms on average; each dairy farm is nearly 342 acres in size. Hay farming and dairy farming are related as hay farms provide forage for dairy farms as well as the horse farms in 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 (sheep and goats; greenhouse, nursery and floriculture; beef cattle; horse and equine; other crop farming; and vegetable and melon farming) each represent between 25,000 and 43,000 acres of farmland. Each of these represents between 4.6 and 8.1 percent of the Commonwealth's total farmland. Horse and equine production, despite being one of the most numerous farm types, represents about 7.8 percent of the Commonwealth's total farmland with around 41,000 acres of Massachusetts farmland.