Snapshot: Fewer - and bigger - Oregon farms

Average farmer, rancher nearly 60; trends mirror nation's

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon has fewer but larger farms, and older farmers and ranchers, according to early data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture just released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agriculture Statistics Service.

The process of collecting and tabulating information from the nation's farmers and ranchers has been completed, the Oregon Department of Agriculture says. A quick look at the figures shows that Oregon is generally following the trend seen throughout the rest of the nation in many areas.

"The number of farms in Oregon is down significantly from the previous census, even by a greater percentage than the rest of the nation," says Dave Losh, state statistician with the Oregon field office of NASS. "But like the rest of the nation, the decrease has taken place in all income categories of farms, except those operations that reported more than $250,000 in income for 2012."

The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years, and is the most ambitious and important compilation of all agriculture surveys. Data from all 50 states has been gathered and is being analyzed following a comprehensive survey of nearly every known farmer and rancher in the United States.

The federal government shutdown in October came at a critical time and delayed the analysis of this preliminary, partial release of the data.

Among the national highlights:

·      There are more than 2.1 million farms in the US, but that is a 4.3 percent decrease from the 2.2 million farms counted in the 2007 census.

·      Despite fewer farms, the average size of US farms is 434 acres, which is an increase over the 418 acres reported as an average size in 2007.

·      The decrease in number of farms nationally is registered in all size categories with the exception of those farms a thousand acres or more.

·      Average age of operator is 58, up from the average of 57.1 years old reported in 2007.

Oregon's preliminary census data shows that the state is headed in the same direction as the rest of the country in key categories, but to a greater degree.

·      The number of farms in Oregon is 35,439, down 8.1 percent from 2007 when there were 38,523 farms reported. Going back 10 years, there has been an 11.4 percent drop in the number of Oregon farms.

·      Average size of farms in Oregon increased to 460 acres– up 8.2 percent from 2007.

·      The amount of land in farms in Oregon fell slightly to 16,301,578 acres in 2012.

·      The number of farms dropped in all categories of size and all categories of income with the exception of operations with more than $250,000 in annual sales. The number of farms reporting $1 million or more in annual sales increased in Oregon from 858 in 2007 to 989 in 2012. The biggest category drop was farms reporting less than $50,000 in annual sales.

·      Market value of agricultural products sold increased 11.3 percent in 2012 to $4.8 billion, which is a whopping 52.8 percent increase from the market value reported 10 years ago.

·      The percentage of principal operators in Oregon reporting something other than farming as their primary occupation is still in the majority, but has dropped from 54 percent to just barely over 50 percent.

·      The average age of operator is now 59.6 years, up from 57.5 years in 2007 and 54.9 years in 2002. Oregon's average age is higher than the national average.

More detailed statistics, including county level data, will be released in May.

Losh says economics and the higher cost of being a farmer is probably most responsible for the exit of part-time farmers and some of the small-scale operators.

"We've seen farm expenses increase since the last census, and that could be making it difficult for those without a scale of production to continue at this time."

Losh is also pleased with the participation in the census by Oregon agriculture.

"Oregon had a good response rate. Nearly 83 percent of our producers took the time to complete the Census of Agriculture, which is better than the national average of about 80 percent."

"This census data once again shows the strength of Oregon agriculture and its contribution to our state's economy," says Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "I'm still very concerned about the increasing age of our farmers and ranchers, and if the number of farms and total farm acreage will continue to decrease in Oregon.

"I will be very interested to see additional details from the census, including some of the production and sales numbers for specific types of crops and livestock as well as what is taking place in each of Oregon's 36 counties. This snapshot is extremely important, and I'm grateful for the majority of operators who recognized the value of participating in the survey."

Census data often forms the basis of decisions, such as where Extension Service should increase programs and services, and where research and grant dollars should be allocated.

The private sector looks at the data as well. Farm implement dealers have been known to pull out of one area and into another, based on a drop or a rise in the number of operators nearby. Census figures also provide help in analyzing and developing policies on water use for irrigation and rural development.

For state and national data, go to

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