Report explores economic impact of NH’s local food

By Holly Ramer;  Associated Press Writer / May 31, 2010

CONCORD, N.H.—New Hampshire farms are less productive and profitable than those in Maine or Vermont but do a good job selling directly to an affluent, engaged population, according to a new report.

With interest in local food rising, the state Department of Agriculture had researchers at the University of New Hampshire analyze the economic impact of the New Hampshire food system, which includes about 81,000 people in farming, manufacturing, distribution or retail jobs.

Those four sectors of the food system account for 15 percent of the state’s nongovernment workers and together contribute 5.7 percent of the state’s economy, the report found.

The report cites several strengths and opportunities, including a wealthy population with a strong interest in the “buy local” movement. Residents generally are interested in preserving open space, and institutions such as hospitals and hotels show strong interest in supporting local food, researchers said.

New Hampshire farmers also are much more likely than farmers elsewhere to sell food directly to consumers at farm stands, farmers markets or “pick your own” operations. That direct marketing accounts for 12 percent of New Hampshire’s farm food sales, compared to just half a percent nationally, 3 percent in Maine and 4 percent in Vermont.

The flip side to those statistics, however, is that New Hampshire farms are less likely to have contracts with stores or restaurants that would bring in more money.

In 2007, only 30 percent of New Hampshire farms had positive net income, much lower than the U.S. average of 47 percent. Forty percent of Maine farms and 44 percent in Vermont turned a profit that year. New Hampshire’s economy would get a $70 million boost if its farms performed as well as Vermont’s, researchers said.

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