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Local farms lose operators and acreage

Latest agriculture census shows Klamath County losing 21 farms in past five years

By JILL AHO, Herald and News February 12, 2009

The number of farms and acres farmed decreased in Klamath and Lake counties between 2002 and 2007, while nation wide the number of farms grew by 4 percent.

Results of the Census of Agriculture released last week indicated Klamath County lost 21 farms in the five years and Lake County was down 45 farms.

In Siskiyou and Modoc counties, the number of farms increased by about 5 percent, but acreage dropped.

The good news is that all four counties experienced increases in the market value of production, with Klamath experiencing the greatest per farm — up
45 percent — from the 2002 census. At the same time, farm production expenses increased by 34 percent statewide.

Too much emphasis

Willie Riggs, an agricultural economist with the Oregon State University Klamath Basin Extension and Research Center, cautions putting too much emphasis on the census results.

“This isn’t going to capture fluctuation,” he said. “It’s a snapshot at a point in time.”

Riggs said the shrinking farm is no surprise, as Oregon dedicates more land to housing and less to agriculture.

“In terms of national trends, and in terms of what’s going on in the stat e, yes, there are fewer and fewer agricultural acreages every year, because we’re turning ag acreages into homes,” he said. “Our human footprint on the land gets bigger every year.”

Only in Lake County did the size of individual farm operations grow.

Klamath County farms, which five years ago averaged 572 acres, decreased in size to an average of 559 acres. The largest farms continued to be in Lake County, where farm size increased from 1,619 acres per farm to 1,661 acres.

Lake County profits

Farming was most profitable in Lake County, where farmers took home an average of $42,292 per farm.

The least profitable farms were in Siskiyou County, where the average per farm income was $5,182. However, many farmers in Siskiyou reported that farming was not their primary occupation.

Riggs points to the fact that there are similar numbers of acres in production in both Lake and Klamath counties, but there are nearly three times as many farms in Klamath as in Lake.

“My first notion is about its size. Lake County is a bigger county too,” Riggs said. “We have a lot more small farms than Lake County.”

The average age of farmers in the four counties, listed as principal operators, was between 56 and 58. This is on par with the national average age of 57, an increase from the 2002 census, which reported the average age of farmers was 55 years.

“That’s been going on since day one,” Riggs said. Considering the federal poverty level and what farmers often make, Riggs said it’s no surprise young people are choosing different careers.

“There’s not a lot of money in agriculture, so what we’re seeing is generational gaps where I think people see how much effort their fathers, mothers and grandparents put into agriculture, and look at what other things they can do with their lives,” Riggs said.

Klamath County had the most female principal operators, but men outnumbered women 3.6 to 1. The averages were similar in Modoc and Siskiyou. In Lake County, men outnumber women nearly 6 to 1.
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