There is less farmland on Long Island now than a decade ago, according to the latest 2022 Census of Agriculture data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Suffolk County, which holds most of the Island’s farmland with 33,000 acres and 578 farms, has lost nearly 2,000 acres since 2012. For context, an acre is the size of 16 tennis courts put together.

Higher costs of production and equipment on Long Island and other parts of New York State have reduced the profitability of farming, pushing farmers to directly sell to consumers and supplement income with agritourism and recreational offerings. Long Island farmers are also opting out of growing labor-intensive crops like cherry tomatoes and choosing corn and rye, which promise better profits, according to Rob Carpenter, director of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

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Exorbitant farmland costs also make it challenging for new farmers to acquire land and increase their produce, driving many out of state or out of farming.

Reflecting surging real estate costs across Long Island, the market value of an acre of farmland and buildings in Nassau and Suffolk is higher than in any other county in the state, outside of New York City’s five boroughs. The average price of farmland in Nassau jumped from $17,360 an acre in 2017 to $62,460 in 2022. An acre in Suffolk is estimated to be valued at around $18,696, up 53% from $12,220 in 2017. The state average is $4,100 an acre.

While all the agricultural products Suffolk’s farms produced in 2022 were valued at $364 million, compared with $226 million in 2017, a 56% jump in expenditures dampened net profits that farmers could take home. According to the data, the total income for each farm on average was about $90,000, only slightly higher than 2017’s $84,000.

The lack of affordability also has made finding farm labor difficult. Farms in Suffolk hired around 5,000 paid workers in 2022, excluding those on contract, and more than 500 full-time and contracted workers were from outside of Long Island. Suffolk farms generally pay higher than the state’s minimum wage to attract skilled labor in a tight market.

The razor-thin profit margin is getting even thinner, added Carpenter. “Preserving all the farmland on Long Island is a noble venture, but it does no good to preserve the farmland if you are not preserving the farmer.”

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