Data shows fewer farms in Oregon and older operators

Oregon Department of Agriculture:

Oregon is reporting a smaller number of farms and a slight decrease in the size of those farms, according to data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture just released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS). The 14-month process of collecting and tabulating information from the nation’s farmers and ranchers has been completed. A quick look at the figures shows that Oregon is running counter to the rest of the nation in many areas.

“In contrast to the national level, Oregon is one of the few states that shows a decline in the total number of farms,” says Chris Mertz, state director of the Oregon Agricultural Statistics Service. “That decrease took place among all income categories of farms with the exception of those operations that reported more than a half million dollars in income for 2007.”

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 gathered and is being analyzed following a comprehensive survey of nearly every known farmer and rancher in the United States.

Among the national highlights:

* There are more than 2.2 million farms in the U.S., a four percent increase from the 2.13 million farms counted in the 2002 census.
* Average size of U.S. farms is 418 acres, down from the average size of 441 acres in 2002.
* Very small and very big farming operations experienced strong growth in the last five years- more so than mid-size farms and ranches. The largest increase in number of farms are those reporting less than $2,500 in annual sales, which also represents the greatest number of farm operations in the U.S. That number increased about nine percent. The largest percentage increase in farms are those reporting more than $500,000 in annual sales. That number increased by about 63 percent.
* Average age of operator is 57.1 years, up from the average of 55.3 years old reported in 2002.

Oregon’s census data shows a state headed in a slightly different direction. Among the state highlights from the 2007 Census of Agriculture:

* The number of farms in Oregon is 38,553, down about four percent from 2002 when there were 40,033 farms reported.
* The average size of farms in Oregon decreased slightly to 425 acres in 2007.
* The amount of land in farms in Oregon fell four percent to 16,399,647 acres in 2007.
* Contrary to the national trend, the number of farms dropped in all categories of income with the exception of operations with more than $500,000 in annual sales. That includes small farms with less than $2,500 in annual sales. There are more operations of that size than any other, with about 45 percent of all Oregon farms falling into that category.
* Market value of agricultural products sold increased 37 percent in 2007 to $4.3 billion. However, farm production expenses increased 34 percent to $3.7 billion. The increase in expenses may have led to some of the decrease in the number of small farms in Oregon.
* The average age of operator in Oregon is 57.5 years, up from 54.9 years in 2002 and slightly more than the U.S. average of 57.1 years old.
* The percentage of principal operators in Oregon reporting something other than farming as their primary occupation has increased to 54 percent compared to just 43 percent of all operators in 2002.

“This is a reversal from the 2002 census, which showed a majority of operators considered farming their primary occupation,” says Mertz.

The latest census shows some interesting production and sales trends. In Oregon, organic production sales increased nearly 900 percent, from about $9.9 million in 2002 to $88 million in 2007. In addition, farm direct sales- through such venues as farm stands and farmers’ markets- increased 250 percent, from $21.4 million in 2002 to $56.3 million in 2007.

Mertz is pleased with the participation in the census by Oregon agriculture.

“We had a very good response rate in Oregon,” says Mertz. “About 86 percent of our producers took the time to complete the Census of Agriculture, a little better than the national average.”

Additional data, including individual county statistics, is now available and there will be greater interpretation of the numbers in the months to come. For now, the figures can be useful as well as interesting.

“This first glance of the census data reaffirms the strength of Oregon agriculture and its contribution to our state’s economy,” says Katy Coba, director of the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “We still need to keep an eye on a few numbers of concern, including the increasing age of our farmers and ranchers, and if the number of farms and total farm acreage continues to decrease in Oregon.”

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.


Media contact: Chris Mertz at (503) 326-2131.

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