Agriculture still a big player in all 36 Oregon counties

Oregon agricultural sales increased overall in 2008
By Oregon Department of Agriculture

Marion County remains the runaway leader, two eastern Oregon counties have cracked the top three, and more than half of Oregon’s 36 counties have reported an increase in agricultural sales in 2008 according to statistics released by Oregon State University this month. Many counties reported dramatic growth last year buoyed by high prices and good yields. The latest figures continue to emphasize the importance of agriculture to both the local and state economy.

Oregon’s total agricultural sales for 2008 is up 1.2 percent at more than $4.9 billion with eight counties recording double digit increases this past year.
Once again, the diversity of agriculture in Oregon resulted in winners and losers among various commodities. While the top ten list contains the same names as before, the mixed bag of results has changed the rank order of counties when it comes to 2008 gross farm and ranch sales:

1.    Marion County $604 million
2.    Umatilla County  $379 million
3.    Morrow County  $371 million
4.    Clackamas County $364 million
5.    Washington County $302 million
6.    Klamath County $301 million
7.    Linn County $296 million
8.    Yamhill County $284 million
9.    Malheur County $276 million
10.    Polk County  $164 million

For the first time in recent memory, two of the top three counties are east of the Cascades. Umatilla County jumped from #3 to #2 while Morrow County moved up from #5 to #3. It was just two years ago that Morrow County was ranked #7. Clackamas County- a fixture at #2 for years- dropped to #4 while Washington County moved down from #4 to #5. In the second five, Linn County swapped positions with Yamhill County, moving up from #8 to #7.

Seven of the top ten counties saw increases in agricultural sales. Morrow (+15.5 percent) reported an increase of $50 million in 2008. Malheur (+5.4 percent), and Umatilla (+2.4 percent) showed noticeable growth. Marion, Polk, Klamath, and Linn counties had smaller increases.

Morrow County can attribute its meteoric rise to the price paid for some key commodities, including hay and potatoes. There was also a significant increase in production of alfalfa hay. Malheur County reported an increase in hay production and price, but also saw a large jump in wheat production. Wheat plantings increased following extremely high prices in the latter part of 2007. On the other hand, Umatilla County- historically a huge wheat producer- actually saw a drop in the commodity’s value of production last year. That tempered the county’s overall agricultural sales growth caused by good prices for hay, potatoes, and onions, as well as increased production of grass seed.

Counties in the Willamette Valley did not see the significant rise in agricultural sales last year of their Eastern Oregon counterparts. Three metro area counties in the overall top ten- Clackamas, Washington, and Yamhill- actually had decreases from the previous year. The state’s number one agricultural commodity- greenhouse and nursery products- dropped in value as the nation’s economy cooled and the domestic market tightened. Marion County, which remains Oregon’s only county with almost a half billion dollars in agricultural sales- saw a modest increase over 2007 of less than one percent. It can still be said that five of the top eight top agricultural counties in Oregon are within an hour’s drive of Portland or Eugene, the state’s two largest cities.

After the top ten, a trio of counties east of the Cascades saw large increases in agricultural sales last year. Jefferson County (+29 percent) reported a jump of $15 million due to increased wheat production and strong prices for hay and grass seed. Both Lake and Harney counties (+12 percent) rode the wave of good hay prices.

On the negative side, 16 counties had decreased agricultural sales in 2008. The largest decline in terms of dollars was Clackamas County at $24 million. A drop in nursery sales is largely responsible but decreases in the number of dairy cattle and hogs also contributed. Washington and Yamhill counties both reported a drop in sales of $9 million, primarily due to the dip in nursery sales. But the largest agricultural sales decline percentage-wise was Gilliam County, with a drop of $13 million (-33 percent) in 2008. Weather problems led to a huge decrease in wheat yields last year, leaving a fraction of the crop available for sale. Douglas County (-14 percent) reported a drop of $11 million in sales last year while Josephine County (-26 percent) saw a decrease of $8 million. In both counties, development is reducing the overall number of acres in production agriculture.

Nearly half of Oregon’s agricultural production takes place in the Willamette Valley. Still, the impact of agriculture remains even greater in rural Oregon as farming and ranching represent a larger percentage of the local economy. With Umatilla and Morrow counties now in the top three, Eastern Oregon is making somewhat of a comeback when it comes to its contribution to the state’s agriculture.

While the $4.9 billion in agricultural sales last year was impressive, the 2009 county statistics may not measure up as prices paid for grains and other commodities have decreased since the last quarter of 2008. Still, the latest statistics continue to show that agriculture is a leading contributor to the state’s overall economy.

To view the OSU database containing county agricultural sales, go to the Oregon Agricultural Information Network home page and select “OAIN Databases.”

For more information, contact Bruce Pokarney at (503) 986-4559.

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