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Knoxville Regional
Transportation Planning Organization

400 Main St, Suite 403
Knoxville, TN 37902

email: contact@planeasttn.org
phone: (865) 215-2500
fax: (865) 215-2068

Focus on Farming: East Tennessee Farmers Losing Ground

Posted 07/26/2012

East Tennessee has a rich agricultural heritage. Its hundred-acre farms, backyard gardens, roadside stands, and farmers markets make up that tradition. And it’s not just a rural culture. Even city folks can know the joy of walking out to the garden and plucking a ripe tomato off the vine for supper. Community gardens in urban areas and a recent ordinance that allows keeping chickens inside the City of Knoxville show a region-wide interest in homegrown foods.

Unfortunately, agriculture as a business is on the decline locally. The amount of land used for farming and the profitability of farm operations are shrinking.

In the five-county PlanET region, comprised of Anderson, Blount, Knox, Loudon, and Union counties, total farmland decreased by more than 15 percent between 1992 and 2007, a faster rate than the rest of Tennessee. Loudon County lost 46,000 acres, accounting for 75 percent of regional losses.

While farmland shrunk, the number of operations grew, meaning that local farms are becoming smaller. Average size dropped from 109 acres in 1992 to 84 acres per farm in 2007.

Production costs are rising at a higher rate than the value of products brought to market. From 1992 to 2007, costs climbed more than 60 percent. Even farms selling more crops and livestock than before are making less money. Loudon was the only county in the region to boast an average net profit for farmers in 2007. All other PlanET counties reported losses.

The region’s farms tend to be small, family operations. As the current generation of farmers grows older—the average age in 2007 was 59—and profits continue to fall, many farmers are abandoning the profession. And fewer members of younger generations plan to continue family farming.

Despite these challenges, farmers in East Tennessee still enjoy strong local support. Farmland preservation, more farmers markets, and more locally grown food were among the wants voiced by folks at PlanET forums and online.

Will this support be enough to attract a new generation of farmers or will East Tennessee continue to lose farm operations in the coming years?

For more information on the state of agriculture and other topics, visit the PlanET website and download the Livability Report Card.
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