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December 27, 2012
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Editorial: Thriving ag industry a welcome ray of light in dark times

Legal challenges continued to stall timber production this year in Douglas County, where food banks also reported increasing need.

Shrinking school and government budgets meant, respectively, leaner academic offerings and fewer days to conduct business or visit library branches.

Still, as 2012 edged closer to the history books, the county had one economic bedrock it could take to the bank: agriculture.

Actually, ag industry news was good for the entire state. The Oregon Department of Agriculture last fall released a snapshot of the state’s farm income levels for 2011, the latest year for which figures are available. Oregon’s net farm income yielded nearly $1.03 billion in 2011 — almost double the $519 million reported in 2010. That’s despite concern over high expenses for cattle feed, fertilizer costs, petroleum fuel and farm labor.

Though this year’s balance sheet won’t be available from the department until late next summer, department analysts reported Oregon net farm income was a sign that “the industry has come out of the trough and many sectors appear to have turned a corner.”

In Douglas County, 2011 total gross ag income was $78.7 million, up from $62 million in 2010 and $58.8 million in 2009. Representatives from the Douglas County Farm Bureau and the Douglas County Livestock Association agreed that strong prices and robust exports helped ensure that agriculture profits didn’t dwindle, as did so many other commercial ventures in the prolonged economic downturn.

In case anyone wonders, the county’s top ag commodities are beef cattle at $21 million and hay and forage at $17 million. In their wake are small woodlands ($8.6 million) and nursery and greenhouse crops ($8 million.) Farther behind but making a showing at $4 million is the category of wine grapes.

Naturally we’re happy to see growth in any county industry. It’s especially gratifying for net farm income, which started a downward slide in 2005 that lasted five years and appeared to be tied to cultural as well as fiscal components.

We understand that even rural areas must be prepared to compete in diverse markets to thrive. And that Little House on the Prairie days are long behind us. (They were pretty tough times, anyway.)

Still, a recent comment by an Oregon State University livestock and forage specialist resonated as a reminder of the county’s roots.

Shelby Filley with the OSU Extension Service’s Douglas County office pointed out to News-Review business reporter Craig Reed that “Agriculture is not just a job, it’s a livelihood, and that makes it easier to work hard in hard times.”

Historically, living off the land has been precarious even at the best of times. Farming and ranching consequently produce stoic people who expect to rebound from losses and remain practical during prosperity.

Agricultural families would be the first to tell you there’s no romance in what they do to make a living. But they also recognize the role they’ve played in preserving the county’s rural heritage over the decades.

We congratulate our farmers, ranchers and others who live close to the land as they reap the fruits of their labor. It’s a reminder to us to buy local products whenever we can to help keep them ­— and us — in business.

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The News-Review Updated Dec 27, 2012 10:17AM Published Jan 6, 2013 08:54AM Copyright 2013 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.