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Maine farmland is shrinking, according to new Census data

In this Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 photo a potato remains in a field after harvesting was temporarily shut down due to unseasonably hot weather at Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg, Maine. The delayed harvest is the latest setback for farmers after a dry season produced a smaller crop of potatoes. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)
Robert F. Bukaty/AP
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AP
In this Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2017 photo a potato remains in a field after harvesting was temporarily shut down due to unseasonably hot weather at Green Thumb Farms in Fryeburg, Maine. The delayed harvest is the latest setback for farmers after a dry season produced a smaller crop of potatoes. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

Maine has lost 564 farms within five years, according to the latest data from the U.S. agricultural census.

The state had 7,036 farms in 2022, the fewest number in at least 25 years.

Farmers have been challenged by high production costs, labor shortages and unpredictable growing seasons, said David Kent, president of the Maine Farm Bureau. And he said some farmers, particularly those in southern Maine, are facing pressure from developers to sell their land.

"A lot of your farmers in Maine are getting at or above retirement age," Kent said. "If they don't have anybody in the family or whatever that wants to continue on, well, then what are they going to do with it?"

The average age of Maine farmers has increased from 56.5 to 57.5 years, according to the new Census data.

More than 82,000 acres of Maine farmland fell out of agricultural production within five years. The number of farms with dairy cattle and pigs as their primary means of production fell by 30%. Maine has lost more than 150 dairy farms alone. Shelley Megquier of Maine Farmland Trust said dairy farmers in particular are grappling with high production costs.

"All of those costs are going way up, and yet the costs of what they get from the market in terms of the milk price hasn't changed," she said. "That is one of the main reasons that I think we've seen a lot of dairy farms in particular go out of business in the last five years."

Across the board, production costs for all Maine farmers have increased by 24% in the past five years.

Megquier said dairy farmers are advocating for an update to Maine's dairy stabilization program, as well as a one-time payment of $7 million to help the industry recover, in the Legislature this session. Both measures must be taken up by state lawmakers at the special appropriations table this spring.

Extreme weather, along with impacts from PFAS contamination, are other factors that make it more difficult for farmers to be economically viable today, Megquier added.

"It's harder to farm now than probably ever before," she said.

At least four farms in Maine have closed due to PFAS contamination. The state of Maine is now accepting applications for aid from farmers who have been impacted.