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Statistics show loss and gain of Oregon farmland varies by region.
The amount of land in farms in Oregon fell slightly to 16,301,578 acres in 2012

Herald and News 12/4/14

     An overall decrease in the amount of farmland in Oregon doesn’t tell the whole story of what is taking place, according to a report from the Oregon Department of Agriculture. Some counties are losing small farms but are gaining larger ones. Other counties have different trends taking place. Location of farmland and specific size characteristics reveal a diversity that is found in other aspects of Oregon agriculture.

   “When you look at the character of Oregon farms in terms of their numbers and their size, it really is indicative of the diversity of our agriculture,” said Jim Johnson, land use specialist with the Oregon Department of Agriculture.

   According to the latest Census of Agriculture, the amount of land in farms in Oregon fell slightly to 16,301,578 acres in 2012 compared to the previous census in 2007, while the number of farms statewide dropped in all categories of size. However, dissecting the data shows a great deal of variability from county to county and region to region.  

   Four regions

   Looking at census data, Johnson focused on representative counties in four regions of the state: the Willamette Valley, Central Oregon, Southern Oregon and the Columbia Basin.

   “Overall, in the Willamette Valley, the trend tends to be a loss of smaller farms in greater numbers than other classification of farm size — but even then, there are some exceptions,” said Johnson, who looked at Benton, Lane, Marion and Clackamas counties.

   Benton County

   From 2007 to 2012, Benton County saw a decrease of 2.2 percent in the overall number of farms but an 8 percent increase in total acreage of farm land. The biggest increase in farm land is in the category of farms 500 to 999 acres, which is considered relatively large for the Willamette Valley.

   “Most of the farms that were lost over the five-year period were the smaller or medium-sized range, while the gains in acreage were the moderately larger farms,” says Johnson.  

   Lane County

   Lane County, home of the largest number of small farms in the state, saw a 20 percent decrease in the number of farms overall and an 11 percent drop in total acreage of farm land. From 2007 to 2012, the number of farms less than 50 acres decreased from 2,517 to 1,965.

   “Lane County lost a great deal of farms in most categories, but a vast majority were 50 acres or less,” said Johnson. “The county tends to be a place where a lot of small farms get started, but the numbers show a lot of them are not making it very far and are being consolidated with moderate to larger farms. Lane County did gain some significant acreage in the category of farms 2,000 acres or larger.”

   Marion County

   Marion County, Oregon’s top agricultural   producer, recorded a very slight decrease in number of farms but a significant 7 percent drop in total acreage. The lost acreage is spread over nearly all size categories.

   “The loss in acreage was heavier in the very small farms with the only large gain showing up in farms 1,000 to 2,000 acres in size,” said Johnson. “The larger farms are probably growing from consolidation with smaller farms, kind of what you would think in terms of Willamette Valley agriculture.”


   Clackamas County lost more than 200 farms in the five-year period — a 6 percent decrease, while recording an 11 percent loss in farm land acreage.

   “Clackamas saw relatively big losses in small farms and the super large farms, while generally gaining farms and acreage in the medium-sized farms,” says Johnson.  

   Crook County

   In Central Oregon, Crook County had a 12 percent decrease in number of farms but a 7.5 percent increase in total acreage. Crook’s big addition in acreage came in the 2,000 acres or more category, with the category of farms 70 to 99 acres in size showing the biggest loss.

   “Where they lost the most farms corresponds with the zoning requirements for land divisions in an agricultural zone,” said Johnson. “This is indicative of either farms being divided to create smaller farms or land divisions occurring under the guise of farm use that end up being hobby farms or non-farm dwellings.”

   Jefferson, Grant Counties

   Johnson sees some of the same patterns in neighboring Jefferson and Grant counties. Jefferson had a 7 percent decrease in number of farms but a 13 percent increase in farm land acreage. Grant remarkably had the same number of farms in both 2007 and 2012, but saw a 14 percent decrease in acreage.  

   “Larger farms are getting bigger, but a lot of activity in the 80 acre or less range suggests land divisions and smaller parcels are being looked at for small-scale ag or hobby farm use. That’s consistent with what’s been going on for years in Deschutes County. It appears to be spreading into other parts of Central Oregon,” said Johnson.

   Jackson, Klamath Counties

   Southern Oregon falls in line with the general pattern of the state with fewer small farms and the bigger farms expanding. Jackson County had a 13 percent decrease in number of farms and acreage. Klamath County reported a whopping 21 percent decrease in number of farms and a modest 4 percent drop in farm land acreage.

   “Both counties saw acreage gains in the larger farms, but a lot of the small farms are either being consolidated into larger ones or taken out of farm use to provide rural lifestyle opportunities,” said Johnson.  

   Morrow, Umatilla Counties

   The Columbia Basin counties of Morrow and Umatilla provide the most stable picture of all regions. Morrow County had a 5 percent drop in number of farms but a 5 percent increase in acreage. Umatilla County saw a 4 percent decrease in number of farms and a 10 percent drop in acreage.

   “Both counties saw some minimal losses in some categories, but also some additional acreage in the medium-size range,” said Johnson. “Umatilla’s biggest acreage drop came in the largest category of 2,000 or more acres. But the gains for both counties indicates some small-scale ag or hobby farming development.”

   Overall, Johnson is not surprised to see the numbers — particularly the decrease in number of smaller farms, which he says is common nationwide. But the core of Oregon’s agricultural production appears to be stable, and there is nothing in the latest statistics to suggest the overall prospects for the industry are anything but good.
  H&N file photo

   A Klamath Basin farmer harvests alfalfa earlier this year. Klamath County reported a whopping 21 percent decrease in number of farms and a modest 4 percent drop in farmland acreage.



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