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Operator Increases in All Counties

Massachusetts Agricultural Census 2012

The number of Massachusetts farm operators increased in all counties between 2002 and 2007 (Figure 5.4). During that period, the number of Massachusetts farm operators increased by 2,500. Between 2007 and 2012, the increase in farm operators was a modest 302 and both modest increases and decreases were found in the counties across the Commonwealth. The number of farm operators increased again between 2007 and 2012 for Dukes, Franklin, Hampden Hampshire, Middlesex and Worcester Counties, but declined in Barnstable, Berkshire Bristol, Essex, Nantucket, Norfolk and Plymouth Counties. Most increases in farm operators occurred in the central part of the state.  Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex and Worcester Counties saw increases of 87 (Franklin) to 137 (Hampden) farm operators. The greatest declines were in Barnstable (79) and Bristol (81) Counties. It’s important to remember that these changes do not reflect changes in farm numbers. These are changes in all farm operators, principal and other farm operators; some farms will simply have fewer operators. 

In Figures 5.5 and 5.6 we consider changes that occurred in the numbers of principal farm operators by county. The number of principal farm operators for whom farming was their primary occupation increased from 2007 to 2012 in Massachusetts by nearly 300 operators. Only four counties (Barnstable, Bristol, Nantucket and Plymouth) saw declines in the number of principal farm operators who considered farming their primary occupation. The numbers of principal farm operators who did not consider farming their primary occupation declined in all but four counties (Hampden, Hampshire, Nantucket and Worcester. In some counties, farmers who considered farming as their primary occupation may have made the change to a greater reliance on off-farm income. For some counties, Barnstable, Bristol and Plymouth, we can conclude that there was a net exit from farming for both full and part-time farmers.

The story behind the changes in numbers of primary farm operators between 2007 and 2012 is much different than the changes that occurred between 2002 and 2007. In 2007, the number of farm operators who did not consider farming their primary occupation had increased from the 2002 levels, while the number of operators who considered farming their primary occupation had declined. Thus, most of the increases in principal farm operators was for part-time farmers between 2002 and 2007 – those who considered their primary occupation to be something other than farming. Between 2007 and 2012, we find the opposite. There has been an increase in the number of farmers who consider farming their primary occupation, while the number of operators who do not consider farming their primary occupation has declined. A number of farmers may have made the transition from part-time to full-time, and some part-time farmers may have left farming.