ARCHIVE

  • Last modified 93 days ago (April 17, 2019)

MORE

Census finds fewer - but larger - farms

Soybeans surpass wheat, corn second as big farms get bigger and small farms get smaller

Staff writers

Big farms grew bigger and the small ones got smaller according to a 25-year federal census of agriculture released this past week.

“If you have guys around who are still going and have the opportunity to farm more land, they’re going to take it,” Marion farmer Alan Hett said. “Again, there are fewer farms, but your farm size increases.”

The decrease in number of farms was due in part to shrinking profit margins, Hett said.

“The profit margin has gotten smaller,” he said. “If something doesn’t turn around here, it’ll be smaller yet. Some guys are borrowing to the max and they won’t be able to make it go.”

Narrower profit margins have made it necessary for farmers to work more land for the same profit, Hett said.

Crop sales declined more than $10 million to $67 million, but livestock sales increased $5.5 million to $79.5 million.

Only once in 20 years of data gathering — in 2012 — have crop sales exceeded livestock sales, making Marion county agriculture more about ranching and feeding than about planting and harvesting.

Fewer farms were noted in all but the smallest size categories.The average number of acres per farm rose from 603 to 637, but the median farm size — the midpoint between the biggest farm and the smallest — declined from 203 acres to 160.

While Hett and his brother farm 2,500 to 3,000 acres, working so much land has its own challenges, he said.

“The more you farm, the less family time you have at home.” he said. “You also have to think further ahead on rotating fields so you don’t have problems.”

Comparing the most recent data to data from 5 and 10 years earlier:

COUNTY FARMS BY SIZE

2007

2012

2017

<10 acres

44

34

69

10 to 49 acres

131

153

166

50 to 179

271

265

243

180 to 499

208

208

138

500 to 999

154

130

122

Larger

166

191

154

Census

The average farm had 768 acres in cropland, down 14 percent, and harvested 676 acres, down 3 percent. Irrigation was cut in half, with only 16 irrigated farms and a total of 3,307 acres of irrigated land.

Agriculture is also heavily dependent on federal aid. A total of only 574 farms reported generating farm-related income, but 618 farms reported receiving federal aid, totaling $5.9 million, up 30 percent.

In all, federal aid added the equivalent of 19.7 percent to farm income in the county.

Total net income per farm was $33,722, up 20.7 percent. For all households, farm and non-farm, median household income in the county was $47,926.

Although normally thought of as a wheat-producing county, Marion County farmers have been rapidly shifting away from that crop.

Growing soybeans is beneficial if a farmer should decide to rotate back to growing corn, Hett said.

“It sure doesn’t hurt anything, soil-wise,” he said. “It makes for a nice seed-bed if you’re planting corn into soybean ground and didn’t plant any wheat.”

Despite focusing on soybeans the past few years, in 2019 mean Hett said he is planting more corn now because of this year’s wet spring.

“We’re planting more corn this year than ever,” he said. “That’s mostly because we couldn’t get wheat into the ground because it’s so wet.”

For the first time in census history, soybeans accounted for the most harvested acres in the county, and corn is rapidly moving to challenge wheat for second place while sorghum is declining sharply:

ACRES HARVESTED

2007

2012

2017

Soybeans

45,487

74,432

110,101

Wheat

132.921

133,649

89,354

Corn*

22,416

47,206

63,671

Hay

57,220

45,976

48,597

Sorghum*

52,599

30,347

8,656

*including small amounts of silage

Fewer farms were involved in all harvests in 2017. A total of 512 farms (down 5 percent) harvested hay, 397 (down 2.9 percent) harvested soybeans, 364 (down 30.1 percent) wheat, 274 (down 6.8 percent) corn, and 77 (down 66.4 percent) sorghum.

Average yields per acre were 86.6 bushels for corn, 68.6 for sorghum, 50.9 for wheat, and 27.0 for soybeans.

All were up substantially from 2012, when average yields were 53.9 bushels for corn, 45.5 for wheat, 30.9 for sorghum, and 11.5 for soybeans.

Last modified April 17, 2019

Quantcast