A new federal report claims Pennsylvania lost nearly 4,000 farms over a five-year period along with a 100,000 total farm acreage decline.
The initial figures in the Census of Agriculture released in late February show just over 59,000 farms in 2012, land that comprised 7.7 million acres.
The total annual market value of the state's agriculture products totaled roughly $7.4 billion with the average farm producing nearly $124,000 in products every year.
While most Pennsylvania farms range between 10 and 500 acres in size, approximately 650 are at least 1,000 acres.
The average farm size is 130 acres, according to published reports.
The survey says nearly half of the state's 59,302 farm operators have another primary occupation outside of agriculture.
According to Ernest Mattiuz Jr. of Kersey, who was elected to the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau's board of directors in late 2013, the figures reported reflect only returned census forms that the United States Department of Agriculture received from farmers.
"The report does not tell us what those numbers mean or provide information as to why those numbers have changed," Mattiuz said.
The full report is reportedly due out in May and should provide more detailed information as to why the figures have taken a turn.
"With this is mind we can generically say that we in agriculture are concerned when we see that the number of farms has dropped by 4,000 from the previous census," Mattiuz said. "It would be helpful to know what caused the drop."
It is unknown whether the lackluster figures can be attributed to retirement, death, the sale of farms to other farmers or family members, or harsh economic times.
"It is likely that the drop in numbers occurred due to a combination of these factors and others as well," Mattiuz said. "If a farm was sold to another farmer or family member with another farm name, then the census would count one less farm although the land being farmed may not have changed."
Looking at the last three census reports, there was a spike in the number of farms and farmland reported in the 2007 census. It reveals an increase of 5,000 farms and 100,000 acres in farmland compared to the 2002 census.
When comparing census figures from 2002, 2007 and 2012, there is actually an overall increase of 1,000 farms while the acreage amount is the same.
"Two areas cited for an increase in the number of farms in 2007 were an aggressive campaign to get more farmers to fill out the census and an increase in the number of 'niche' farmers in the state," Mattiuz said.
With Elk County figures available only for 2002 and 2007, there is an increase of 152 farms and 11,098 acres in production. The market value of agriculture products in 2002 was $2.833 million and in 2007 it increased to $3.717 million.
New figures released in February also produce an eye-popping statistic: the average age of a Pennsylvania farmer is currently 56 years and getting older.
"I as well as others in the agriculture community are constantly concerned about the rising age of farmers and question where the next generation of farmers will come from," Mattiuz said. "We do, however, have some optimism in Pennsylvania due to the strength of the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau's Young Farmer and Rancher committee."
Within the committee are a solid number of young farmers expressing optimism regarding the future along with strong visions of improvement and growth.
"They see the opportunities in agriculture for years to come, and many of these young farmers are bringing new information, marketing skills, social media and other skills back to the home farm or to their new operation," Mattiuz said. "Despite their optimism young farmers do face challenges, including coming up with enough capital to get started, especially if they are trying to buy land and because of the many environmental regulations placed on agriculture today."
Mattiuz, who operates a 93-acre beef and grain farm in Elk County, has been active in his local chapter of the farm organization, serving as vice president of the Elk County Farm Bureau and as its governmental relations and membership chairman.
The state farm bureau, made up of 54 county farm bureaus across the state, is divided into eight regions and 16 districts; Mattiuz currently serves as director of District 13, taking over for outgoing director Ethel Horner of Clarion County.
District 13 encompasses Armstrong, Clarion, Elk, Forest, Jefferson and Venango counties.