‘Green Industries’ Now Drive Connecticut Agriculture

Agriculture contributes 21,000 jobs and $800 million to the state's economy, according to a report released today. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)
Agriculture contributes 21,000 jobs and $800 million to the state's economy, according to a report released today. (Peter Morenus/UConn Photo)

Unlike the rest of the nation, Connecticut agriculture is not dominated by field crops, but instead by ‘green industries’ including nurseries and greenhouses, floriculture, sod production, egg and poultry production, and dairy farming.

Those make up the largest sectors in the state’s $4 billion sales, according to a new study by the University of Connecticut’s Zwick Center for Food and Resource Policy, which offers the most comprehensive assessment of the total value of agriculture’s contribution to the state’s economy since an initial review in 2010.

In fact, the greenhouse and nursery sector alone accounts for nearly half of the state’s agricultural product sales, according to the report.

Agriculture is a vital sector in Connecticut’s economy, say the researchers. Farmland accounts for 440,000 acres – slightly more than 13 percent of the state’s 3.2 million acres – and Connecticut’s 4,916 farms rank first in New England in terms of market value per farm and per acre.

Overall, agriculture provides more than 21,000 jobs and $800 million in wages to the state’s economy. On a per capita basis, the agricultural industry generates approximately $1,100 in sales per Connecticut resident.

And, because the agricultural industry purchases goods and services from other industries and hires local labor, its economic impact cascades throughout the state.

“Destinations such as wineries, pick-your-own orchards, pumpkin patches, and corn mazes help to attract tourists,” says lead author Rigoberto Lopez, director of the Zwick Center. “Farmers’ markets, farm stands, and farm-to-table events can boost sales for area business.”

A major goal of the study is to increase awareness about the larger role the agricultural industry plays in the state’s economy and to provide quantitative information for decision making and resource allocation directed at the agricultural industries, says Lopez.

In order to quantify the economic impact of agriculture on the state, UConn researchers had to first identify what was being counted. The study defined the agricultural industry “as encompassing crop and livestock production, forest products, and the processing of the state’s agricultural production.”

The study used three models of the Connecticut economy to capture the scope of the agricultural industry, its links to the rest of the state economy, and to assess its contribution to statewide output and jobs. Some highlights of the study include:

  • Each dollar in sales generated by the agricultural industry creates an additional dollar worth of economic activity statewide.
  • The total economic impact of agricultural and forest production to the gross state product was approximately $2 billion, while the impact of the agricultural processing sector was also about $2 billion, with more than half coming from dairy processing.
  • The agricultural production sector generates between 13 and 19 jobs per million dollars in sales, more than twice the number of jobs generated by agricultural processing.
  • The highest job creators per million dollars in sales are support activities for agriculture, greenhouse, nursery and floriculture; tobacco farming; animal production; and commercial fishing.
  • More than 20,000 of 2.2 million jobs (0.9 percent) in Connecticut were held by people employed directly or indirectly in agriculture during 2015. Agricultural and forest production activities generated two-thirds of those jobs or approximately 14,000, while primary agricultural processing activities added another 7,000.
  • The sectors that grew the most between 2007 and 2015 include value added and specialty crops, including wineries, vegetable and fruit farming, fluid milk manufacturing, egg production, and aquaculture.
  • Some sectors have seen a decline between 2007 and 2015, including tobacco farming,  commercial (wild-caught) fishing, and commercial logging.

Along with the impact of sales, employment, and wages, the agricultural industry provides significant non-market social benefits and ecosystem services whose estimation was beyond the scope of the study, notes Lopez.

Specifically excluded were secondary sectors such as landscaping, groundskeeping, bakeries, and distilling, which although economically important, would overstate the projected output and job impacts attributable directly to the state’s agriculture.

In addition, the study did not include the value of ecosystem services, scenic views, and other non-market social benefits attributable directly to the state’s agriculture, but does provide some preliminary estimates of the impact of agro-tourism and carbon sequestration attributable to Connecticut’s farmland.

In addition to Lopez, the authors included: from Zwick Center, Rebecca Boehm, postdoctoral fellow, and Marcela Pineda, student intern; from the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis, Peter Gunther, senior research fellow, and Fred Carstensen, director.

The study was supported by the UConn’s Department of Cooperative Extension within the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources. It was reviewed by the Connecticut Department of Agriculture and the Connecticut Farm Bureau.