UConn report: Connecticut agriculture industry moving toward more specialty crops

Hydroponically grown Boston Bibb Lettuce grows in the greenhouse at Maple Lane Farms in Preston Wednesday, May 4, 2011. Farm owner Allyn Brown used state grant money to convert the former mushroom facility to grow the lettuce and sell it in Connecticut Stop and Shop stores. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Hydroponically grown Boston Bibb Lettuce grows in the greenhouse at Maple Lane Farms in Preston Wednesday, May 4, 2011. Farm owner Allyn Brown used state grant money to convert the former mushroom facility to grow the lettuce and sell it in Connecticut Stop and Shop stores. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

University of Connecticut researchers found that Connecticut's agriculture industry generates between $3.3 billion and $4 billion for the state's economy every year, and specialty crops like fruit and wine grapes are a growing part of the industry.

The total agricultural contribution to the state's economy — which totaled $266.6 billion in the last quarter of 2016 — is slightly down from numbers collected in 2007 by researchers at the school's Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy.

The new report, based on 2015 data and released last week, showed that sectors such as wineries, vegetable and fruit farming, milk manufacturing, egg production and aquaculture all grew between 2007 and 2015.

Sales from traditional agricultural activities like tobacco farming, commercial fishing, and commercial logging declined during the same period, according to the report.

Wineries grew significantly within the state's agricultural industry, according to the report, with $85.8 million in sales in 2015 — up from $30 million in 2007.

Commercial fishing declined in sales, but the researchers said Connecticut is consistent with other states in shifting more of the market to aquaculture, which grew in sales by almost 100 percent from 2007.

"The agricultural industry in Connecticut appears to be restructuring into new market segments where innovation, diversity, and economic viability are key," they wrote. "This may be a consequence of external factors such as competition from other regions and countries as well as natural shocks like climate change."

"Compared to the 2010 report, we observed an ongoing shift toward specialty crops and sectors that add value beyond the farm gate," Rigoberto Lopez, the director of the Zwick Center and the study's lead author, said at a news conference Friday. "This is perhaps a promising ... direction for the future of agriculture."

The study marked the first time a statewide assessment of agricultural output had been completed since the 2010 study, which used data from 2007. It was supported by UConn's Department of Cooperative Extension and reviewed by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture and the Connecticut Farm Bureau.

The agricultural industry supports 21,000 jobs in the state and accounts for nearly 14 percent of Connecticut's land.

"The agriculture sector in Connecticut is healthy, it's changing and adapting to what the consumer is looking for in terms of specialty crops that are locally grown and for sale across the state of Connecticut," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said at the news conference last week.

m.shanahan@theday.com

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