New stats show changes on Oregon farms

Fewer families, less irrigated land, more organics

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon farms remain predominantly family-owned, many smaller farms appear to be disappearing, the amount of irrigated farmland has decreased, and the value of organic agriculture has grown tremendously.

Those are among the final results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture just released by the US Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

"This latest census reveals some interesting trends in our state's agriculture," says Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba. "Some things remain constant while other facets of our farm and ranch community seem to be changing based on a comparison of the past two censuses. As vast and diverse as Oregon agriculture is, I'm not surprised at what the numbers tell us."

The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years, and is the most ambitious and important compilation of all agriculture surveys. Data from all fifty states has been compiled following a comprehensive survey of nearly every known farmer and rancher in the nation. Preliminary data released in February showed that Oregon has a smaller number of farms, a larger average size of farms, and an older average age of farmer and rancher. The final results include county-level data which provides useful and insightful information for researchers and analysts.

According to the new census, farm ownership in Oregon appears much the same as it was in 2007. Of the state's 35,439 farms, nearly 91 percent are family-owned, virtually unchanged from the previous census. The amount of acreage under family ownership has dropped slightly from 74 percent to 70 percent, while the amount of sales from family owned farms has also decreased a bit from 71 percent to just under 69 percent.

Overall, Oregon has fewer farms that recorded less than $10,000 in annual sales than it did in 2007– nearly 4,000 less– but that category of farms by value of sales remains the largest, accounting for more than 64 percent of all Oregon farms. It still appears that small farms are having a difficult time staying viable. In some cases, however, they may be growing their way out of the category.

"The 2012 census data is showing us that there is some consolidation going on– we may be losing some of the smaller farms or they are gaining economies of scale and moving up in size," says Dave Losh, state statistician with the Oregon field office of NASS.

Farms recording less than $10,000 in sales still only account for 1.9 percent of the state's total sales of agricultural products.

Correspondingly, Oregon has more farms that recorded $500,000 in sales or more compared to five years earlier, but at only 1,797 farms, that category remains the smallest, accounting for only 5 percent of all Oregon farms. However, that category accounts for 79.6 percent of the state's total sales.

Bucking the national trend, Oregon's net cash farm income was down 10 percent while the US overall saw a 24 percent hike. Oregon's expenses took a big bite out of the market value of products sold.

 "Labor remains the top expense for Oregon agriculture because of the high minimum wage, but it was the price paid for animal feed that showed the biggest increase among expenses, largely because of the Midwest drought ," says Losh.

Total labor expenses in 2012 approached one billion dollars, an increase of 8.4 percent from 2007 and a jump of 44 percent from 2002.

The final census results also provide information on irrigated land.  In 2012, Oregon recorded 1.6 million acres of irrigated land, a decrease of 11.7 percent from the 1.8 million irrigated acres in 2007. With all its water shortage problems in recent years, Klamath County saw a 29.4 percent decrease over that five year period and is no longer Oregon's top irrigated county. Malheur County is the new number one in irrigation, but still lost nearly 8 percent of its irrigated acreage. Two counties in the top five in terms of irrigation– Harney and Umatilla– actually increased the number of irrigated acres.

For the first time, the expanded census survey asked questions of farmers and ranchers about renewable energy producing systems on their operations. In Oregon, 1,401 farms reported having renewable energy production, with 1,141 claiming solar panels, 311 having wind turbines (either owned or leased to others), 95 with geoexchange systems, and 41 operating small hydro systems.

Oregon producers are among the nation's leaders in farm direct marketing, according to the latest census data. In the category of marketing products directly to retail outlets, Oregon ranks 6th with 1,891 farms. In the category of marketing products through community supported agriculture (CSAs), Oregon ranks 10th of all states. The census does not tally the number of farms participating in farmers' markets or roadside stands, but both are popular marketing outlets for Oregon producers.

The census provides some interesting data regarding organic production. From 2007 to 2012, the number of organic farms in Oregon dropped from 799 to 554.

"The drop largely took place in the smaller operations, those farms with less than $5,000 in annual sales," says Losh.

However, the market value of organic products in Oregon increased dramatically over the five year period from $88 million to $194 million. According to the census, that's good enough for Oregon to be ranked third of all states behind California and Washington.

The 2012 Census of Agriculture contains an incredible amount of statistical information– numbers that can tell many stories about what is going on with agriculture in Oregon, all of its counties, and all other states.

For state and national data, go to <www.agcensus.usda.gov>.

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