Farmland shrunk 6.2% in 10 years, survey finds

A census of agriculture carried out by the National Statistics Office paints a sad but not unexpected picture of the sector, with less cultivated land and fewer livestock in many cases.

The census was taken in 2020 and the results were compared with the previous census a decade earlier.

Details released by the statistics office on Tuesday show:

• Over the 10-year period since the last census, the number of farms has decreased by 14.8%, from 12,268 in 2010 to 10,449 in 2020.

• There were 4,327 farms (41.4 percent) producing only for their own consumption, while the remaining 6,122 farms (58.6 percent) sold all or part of their production. The former were responsible for cultivating 1,835 hectares (17.1%) of all utilized agricultural area, while the latter cultivated the remaining 8,895 hectares (82.9%).

• Utilized agricultural area decreased by 6.2%, from 11,445 hectares in 2010 to 10,730 hectares in 2020.

• The number of breeding pigs, broilers and cattle decreased by 43.2, 17.7 and 7.9%, respectively, while the number of sheep, goats and laying hens livestock increased by 36.3, 31.5 and 12.6%, respectively.

• The agricultural labor force has decreased by 25.8%, from 18,212 people in 2010 to 13,511 people in 2020.

• The aging factor was evident in the agricultural workforce as 23.7% of workers were under 45 years old.

• 45.8 percent of farms had a succession plan for someone else to continue their farm work in retirement.

In 2020, the total number of farms in Malta stood at 10,449. A total of 2,514 farms or 24.1% were in the Western District. Then come the North and Gozo and Comino districts with 2,174 (20.8%) and 2,115 farms (20.2%) respectively.

Northern Harbor District had the fewest number of farms, at 768 or 7.3% of the total.

The majority of farms (98.7%) were run by single operators. Holdings that were found to be managed by groups, partnerships and corporations accounted for 1.3%.

Farmers who were both the manager and the sole operator of the activity accounted for 93.8% of all single-operator agricultural holdings surveyed in the census. Agricultural managers were predominantly male, with 11.1% being female. In addition, executives aged 44 and under accounted for 17.6% of the total, compared to 16.8% in 2010 (Chart 1). Managers aged 65 and over accounted for 35.9% of the total.

The 2020 Census of Agriculture found that most holdings in Malta were relatively small, with 7,280 holdings (69.7%) managing a utilized agricultural area (UAA) of less than one hectare. Medium-sized farms that managed between one and five hectares of land numbered 2,904 (27.8%), while 265 farms (2.5%) were considered large, managing more than five hectares of UAA . Furthermore, it resulted that a total of 4,327 farms, representing 41.4 percent of all farms, produced products for their own consumption while the remaining 6,122 farms, or 58.6 percent, sold all or part of their production through the various market niches.

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Amalia H. Mercado