AFT Releases Pilot Agricultural Viability Index
On Oct. 1, 2020, AFT released its pilot Agricultural Viability Index, or AVI, an interactive web-based tool designed to help decision makers assess the health of agriculture as an economic sector at a state, county, and/or regional level. Thanks to the support of CoBank and Farm Credit East, the AVI is a pioneering attempt to evaluate and compare agricultural vitality across New England, New York, and New Jersey, ultimately assessing whether a jurisdiction can sustain profitable farm enterprises, support wealth creation through agriculture, and retain land in production for future generations. Using a special tabulation of 2017 Census of Agriculture data and informed by stakeholder engagement, the AVI combines economic dimensions and ownership/operator characteristics and makes the data available through a series of dashboards and maps.
Intended for state and local planners, policy makers, lenders, and other decision makers, these interactive tools portray various dimensions of viability so users can quickly visualize and compare key metrics for farms in areas of their choosing. Starting with nearly 100 indicators of economic and owner/operator characteristics, AFT conducted correlations and regression analyses to narrow down to a set of 21 factors from ranging data on farm revenues, expenses, and profitability to diversified income streams and participation in the local food economy, to age, ownership rates and succession planning. Further, these metrics also are available for six of the region’s leading agricultural industries: vegetable and melons, fruit and tree nuts, dairy, beef, poultry and eggs, and greenhouses and nurseries.
“For Farm Credit East, this data can help us see what types of farms might thrive in certain areas, and where there may be viability concerns,” says Chris Laughton, project partner and director of Knowledge Exchange at Farm Credit East. “AFT did a remarkable job of putting an easy-to-interpret, interactive, visual format in a way that hasn’t been done before.”
To complement the suite of analytical tools, the AVI uses story maps to bring together the important connections between viability and land conversion, land protection, and equity – highlighting the findings from AFT’s “Farms Under Threat” and Protected Agricultural Lands Database.