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U.S. land in farms shrinks 3 million acres in 2012


By CAROL RYAN DUMAS
Capital Press
While drought and economic factors combined to take 3 million acres of U.S. farmland out of production last year, some states — including Oregon — added crop land, the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reports.
Many factors contributed to the farmland changes, but high crop prices could be one factor for more land going into production in some states, said Tony Dorn, head of the economic section of the Environmental, Economics and Demographics Branch at NASS.
Oregon gained 200,000 acres in farm and ranch land, an increase of 1.2 percent, according to the report.
That gain may be attributable to farmers and ranchers putting land into production to take advantage of high prices for crops such as hay and wheat, Bruce Eklund, deputy state director for NASS in Oregon, said.
 The largest increase of land in farms was in Ohio, which was up 500,000 acres.
Texas, with its second year of drought, showed the biggest drop in farmland, losing 2 million acres, Dorn said.
Montana, with a lot of cattle operations, showed the next highest loss, down 1.7 million acres. Many factors could have combined to cause those losses, he said.
Cattle ranchers and feedlot owners have struggled to break even in light of record-high feeder cattle prices and feed costs. Overall, the number of   smaller livestock operations has decreased due to economic factors and drought, Dorn said.
Overall, nine states posted decreases in farmland in 2012, a total loss of 4.1 million acres. Six states showed increases in farmland, a total gain of 1.1 million acres.
NASS doesn’t track usage changes and doesn’t collect data on which types of crop farms are counted in its annual Farms, Land in Farms, and Livestock Operations report, but it does track farms by sales classes.
The latest data show the number of farms in the $500,000 and higher sales class increased by 8.6 percent, to a total of 145,190.
Overall, the U.S. has 2.17 million farms on 914 million acres.
The number of farms in the $1,000 to $9,999 sales class decreased 2.5 percent, and the number of farms in sales classes between the lowest and highest all increased.
Higher commodity prices and larger values of sales contributed to the increases in farms in those sales classes. The increase in sales could also be a factor of increased farm size, Dorn said.
Development pressures and real estate cycles are two other factors affecting land in farms, he said.
USDA reports that the amount of land in farms peaked in the 1950s at just over 1 billion acres, declining slowly since then. The number of farms, however, fell dramatically after its peak of nearly 7 million in 1935, with most of the decline occurring during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.
Overall, the trend in farms has been fewer, but bigger, farms, Dorn said.
While data on types of crop farms are only collected in the five-year Census of Agriculture, due out in February 2014, the annual farm count does collect data on livestock operations.
In 2012, the number of operations with cattle totaled 915,000, down 1 percent from 2011. Beef cow operations, at 729,000, were also down 1 percent. Milk cow operations, at 58,000, were down 3 percent.
Hog, sheep and goat operations were each down 1 percent from the previous year.
NASS conducted its survey of more than 40,000 farms in June 2012, and defines a farm as any place from which $1,000 or more of ag products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold.
Livestock operations are any place having one or more head on hand on Dec. 31.


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