Demographic trends paint rosy ag future
Surrounded by one of the world’s great urban concentrations, Delaware’s agricultural economy continues to thrive. It appears that recent demographic trends will only enhance that prosperity.
With annual product sales of $1.5 billion, agriculture represents the state’s single-largest economic sector. The poultry industry accounts for about $818 million of those annual sales and provides a steady market for almost all of the corn and soybeans grown in the state.
A recent article shows how agriculture in Delaware and the mid-Atlantic region is beginning to diversify. Dr. Naveen Dixit of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore faculty is using federal grant money to help farmers tap into the growing market for Asian vegetables.
Dixit notes that because of Delmarva’s proximity to the densely populated mid-Atlantic metropolitan areas, “Growers on the Delmarva Peninsula are uniquely poised to compete in the market of the growing population of Asian Americans.” He cited research showing that the nation’s Asian American population grew by 72 percent between 2000 and 2015.
He is helping farmers understand that population's desire for Asian vegetables, and their willingness – and the willingness of non-Asians interested in the local and fresh food movement – to pay well for those vegetables.
Dixit noted there are more than 6,000 farms of fewer than 50 acres in the mid-Atlantic and Delmarva region. Farmers are growing much more than the corn, soybean and wheat crops dominating our landscape.
Delaware Department of Agriculture spokesperson Stacey Hoffman provided statistics showing that in Delaware alone, there are 1,283 farms of less than 50 acres. Of those, 604 are in Sussex County.
Hoffman said Delaware farmers markets have seen an uptick in consumer demand for the longer, thinner Asian eggplants popular for slicing and sautéing.
Agriculture is complementary to tourism - the state’s second-largest economic sector. Delaware can only enhance and ensure its future economic prosperity by continuing aggressive agland preservation efforts and further promoting agriculture – and its associated businesses – at all levels.