Oregon agriculture produced a near record income in 2011 of $1.03 billion, the highest figure in seven years.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture recently released a summary of the year’s ag production. Net farm income nearly doubled from $519 million in 2010. The year’s total was the highest since a record $1.14 billion in 2004. After a slump from 2005-09, there’s been a recovery over the past two years and early indications point to many commodities doing well again in 2012.
“The industry has come out of the trough and many sectors appear to have turned a corner,” agriculture department analyst Brent Searle said in a press release.
Oregon’s diverse agriculture ranges from beef cattle and blueberries to nursery plants and row crop vegetables. Income in recent years has varied depending on the product.
Production costs — a record $4.3 billion for 2011 — lowered profits for farmers and ranchers. Those expenses, however, keep support industries in business.
Douglas County Farm Bureau President Larry Williams, a Dixonville area cattle rancher, said he didn’t believe there was a recession for local livestock producers.
“We’ve had pretty strong prices, strong exports and the imports have been way down,” he said. “Cattle prices right now are excellent. If you can keep your expenses down, you’re going to make some money.”
The Douglas County Livestock Association President Veril Nelson, a cattle rancher in the Oakland area, agreed.
“Agriculture has done pretty well during the downturn in the economy, virtually in all aspects,” he said.
Total gross ag income for Douglas County in 2011 was $78.7 million. That’s an improvement from $62 million in 2010 and from $58.8 million in 2009. The top commodity was beef cattle at $21 million, followed by hay and forage at
$17 million, small woodlands at $8.6 million, nursery and greenhouse crops at $8 million and wine grapes at $4 million.
“Yes, ag producers overall have been able to do pretty well compared to other businesses,” said Shelby Filley, the Oregon State University livestock and forage specialist for Douglas County. “Prices for commodities have been steady, and people have managed to stay profitable when they’ve been careful with their input costs ... expenses such as fuel, fertilizer and hay.
“Agriculture is not just a job, it’s a livelihood, and that makes it easier to work hard in hard times,” she added.
Beef cattle prices and income have been steady or on the increase in recent years because the demand is higher than the supply. Drought conditions and high feed prices, specifically for corn and hay, have resulted in the smallest national herd since the 1950s. Sheep numbers are also down. Douglas County was home to more than 100,000 ewes back in the early to mid-1900s, but now has only about 20,000. Many county producers got out of the sheep business because of poor prices and increasing losses to predators.
“We’re getting to the point where red meat is in very short supply,” Nelson said. “The demand remains high, but we’re already seeing some resistance in retail markets to the high prices.”
One product that has increased in Oregon in recent years is blueberries. The result was a record
65.5 million pounds of blueberries harvested in 2011. In Douglas County, Norris Blueberry Farms of Umpqua has planted blueberries on more than 200 acres in the past five years to double its blueberry acreage. A different company has recently planted a couple hundred acres in the Lookingglass Valley.
“That’s one commodity that has outshined others in recent years,” agriculture department spokesman Bruce Pokarney said.
Pokarney said that in primarily rural areas of Oregon, residents appreciate the agricultural industry and understand that it’s a top economic engine. He added there’s not such a connection between agriculture and urban residents.
“I certainly think urban consumers may not yet fully appreciate agriculture’s contributions to the state’s economy,” Pokarney said. “But marketing efforts, farm direct marketing, farmers markets have made a big difference in connecting urban Oregon to agricultural producers.
“Even in difficult economic times, you’ll see some wide swings in some other economic sectors, but agriculture has been very steady,” he added. “There’s not been the ups and downs of other industries. It’s a stable anchor to Oregon’s economy.”
• News-Review business reporter Craig Reed can be reached by calling 541-957-4210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.