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Farm numbers down, sizes up

Tam Moore
Capital Press Staff Writer
February 17, 2006
State Number
of farms
from 2004
California 20,000 +200
Idaho 4,200 -200
Oregon 4,500 +300
Washington 6,900 none
U.S. 336,250 +3,750

Two of those U.S. Department of Agriculture statistical snapshots of the agricultural economy came out last week.

One, the annual count of farms and farm acreage, shows 2.1 million farms and ranches in the United States in 2005, down a bit from 2004. The other, a set of “baseline” economic projections to 2015, shows that in agricultural trade value of exports will exceed value of imports – but just barely.

While national figures show the number of farms decreasing by 100,000 in the past decade and the average acreage per remaining farm operation increasing, two Western states bucked the trend.

Oregon and Idaho both show up in the USDA estimates with identical farm numbers for Jan. 1, 2005, and this January: Oregon 40,000, Idaho 25,000. The rounded numbers are within a whisker of what the 2002 Census of Agriculture showed for the two Northwest states, 40,033 and 25,017, respectively.

Both California and Washington show a loss of 500 farming operations during 2005. And among the four states, only Idaho saw no net loss of farmland during the period. California is estimated to have lost 300,000 acres, bringing farmland down to 26.4 million acres; Oregon and Washington each lost 100,000 acres, to drop to 17.1 million and 15.1 million acres respectively.

The time-honored USDA definition of a farm is a place that has annual income from agriculture of $1,000. That sets the bar far below income to sustain a family, and some economists argue that the focus ought to be on commercial operations with annual income of $100,000 or more. Nationally, the number of farms with revenue over $100,000 grew 3.8 percent this past year (see accompanying chart).

Of the country’s 2.1 million farms, 982,510 have cattle.

In the West, there’s no change in the number of dairy operations, 2,300, for California, the top dairy state. Idaho, with 850 dairies, lost 50 during the year. Oregon gained 10 to 790, and Washington lost 10 to list 810. Nationally there are 78,295 farming operations with milk cows, down over 3,000 from last January.

The West’s beef cattle industry is increasing its cow herd, but the number of operations came through the year with slight changes in Idaho, down 100 ranches, and Washington, up 100 ranches.

Here’s the number of beef cow operations by state, with the percent of the state’s herd running on outfits with 500 or more cows: California, 11,500, 37 percent on 300 operations over 500 head; Idaho, 7,200 operations, with 29 percent on 190 operations with 500 head or larger; Oregon, 11,800 operations, 41 percent on 300 with more than 500 cows; and Washington, 9,800 operations, 17 percent on 50 operations with more than 500 head.

Tam Moore is based in Medford, Ore. His e-mail address is tmoore@capitalpress.com.



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