Midstate counties lead in total farmland, though space for vegetable crops is shrinking

  • Rachel McDevitt

(Harrisburg) — A recent study shows midstate counties have the highest percentage of land harvested for crops in Pennsylvania.

But cropland has shrunk over the decades.

Nearly half of the land in Lancaster County, 48.5 percent, is dedicated to harvested croplands, according to an analysis by the Pennsylvania State Data Center of data from the latest United States Department of Agriculture census.

Cumberland, Franklin, and York counties also ranked high in percentage of farmland.

Mike Orzolek, a professor emeritus of plant science at Penn State, said that’s due to several factors, including climate, topography, and easy access to markets.

Lancaster County was also the largest grower of 22 out of 26 vegetable crops included in the analysis.

Orzolek said the state has been losing land for vegetable farming. Most of the state’s cropland is dedicated to corn, soybeans, and other grains used to feed livestock.

“What we’re having now is a small percentage of what was there 50-70 years ago,” Orzolek said.

In 1969, Pennsylvania farmers grew more than 30,000 acres just of potatoes.

Statewide, vegetable crops now take up 48,000 acres, or just about 1 percent of the commonwealth’s 4 million acres of cropland.

Orzolek said, though the acreage is small, vegetables offer a higher return on investment.

“There are times when a 25-pound box of tomatoes goes for up to $75–wholesale,” he said.

Pennsylvania farmers grew $187 million worth of vegetables, melons and potatoes in 2017, the last year data is available.

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Up Next
Regional & State News

U.S. Marshals help police arrest 71 people in York County