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Farm size diversity in Oregon
Katy Coba article
Collaboration and Cooperation Bring Unity from Diversity of Farms
Farmsize graphSmall Farms in Oregon
Katy Coba, Director
Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA). This article was written for Oregon State University's "Oregon Small Farm News" publication.
 
Whenever I talk about agriculture in Oregon, I like to use the analogy of a three-legged stool representing three broad segments of markets for growers. There are farms that focus on local marketing, others that service regional markets, and those that primarily export. Some do all three or combinations of these. There is room enough for all these marketing strategies, and in fact, we need all of them. These are all end markets that make up the mosaic of different opportunities for our growers that broaden the economic food print of agriculture in Oregon.
 
The next point I like to make is that growers choose what they want to grow, which markets they want to serve, and the type of management and production systems they will use to get there. ODA doesn't pick favorites so long as there are no violations of law; we are always interested in assisting growers—regardless of size, production methodology, or organizational structure—in accessing markets through many of our programs.
 
Of course I also need to say that ODA is deeply involved in natural resource management, water quality issues, and activities of growers who use crop and animal protectant products. Resource stewardship is important for everyone—regardless of size, organizational makeup, or production methodology; and Oregon farmers, with few exceptions, are doing really good things all across the state.
 
I am troubled when different sectors in this great industry shoot at each other and tear down the image of the other. That helps no one and only creates confusion among consumers and policy makers.
 
So, let’s talk about farm size, sales categories, and different farm business structures in Oregon so we have a common understanding of data and how we can all work together.
 
The numbers I will share are compiled by the US Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Statistics Service, through their Census of Agriculture and other reports.
 
The 2007 Agricultural Census counts any establishment as a farm if it has at least $1,000 of sales in the year of the Census, or could have. It’s that second phrase that picks up a lot of the farm numbers in the Census. These are farms that might have a few acres of Christmas trees but didn’t have any sales because they were not mature enough to sell that year, or someone with a couple beef animals or horses, and so forth.
 
Over 30 percent, or nearly 12,000, of Oregon’s 38,700 farms fall into this category.These operations own about 9 percent of Oregon’s farmland. So they certainly have a responsibility in resource management. This is an area where we as a department are making a lot of outreach efforts in education and technical assistance to these small farms.
 
So, let’s move to the next grouping of farms—those with sales in the range of $1,000 to $10,000. Approximately 14,275 farms fall into this category in Oregon, or 37 percent of the total “farm” count. This grouping makes up the largest number of farms in Oregon.
 
These farms operate on over 1 million acres of farmland. They have a key role in understanding and management of those natural resources.
 
Their footprint is usually small—less than 10 acres, and they are located closer to urban areas and service local markets with their products.
 
These farms generated about $53 million in sales in 2007 (1.2 percent of total farm sales), or an average of $3,700 per farm.
 
We know new farmers have to start at some level, and there are really good resources from Oregon State University for small farms in deciding what to grow, how to grow it, and marketing options.
 
 
 
As a Land Grant University, OSU is Oregon’s agriculture research and Extension (outreach) university with a primary role of providing this sort of production information to growers. Most counties have an OSU Extension office. http://extension.oregonstate.edu/locations.php
 
ODA works closely with OSU as a partner on many projects and efforts related to Oregon’s diverse agriculture industry.
 
Now, as we move up the scale, the next group of 6,000 farms gross between $10,000 and $50,000. They manage 1.5 million acres, gross $144 million in sales, or $24,000 per farm.
 
The next step up in size related to sales includes 2,777 farms that gross between $50,000 and $250,000.
 
This group of growers manage 4.4 million acres, gross $454 million in sales—almost a half billion dollars—averaging about $163,000 per farm.
 
Finally, there is a group of about 2,700 farms that gross over $250,000. This isn’t a large number of farms when we consider the total count of farms in Oregon is over 38,000.
 
These are the farms that generally are larger in size and family composition—meaning there is usually several family members in the operation. They are more likely to be organized as a family corporation for operational, liability, and management oversight.
 
These farms manage about 8 million acres in Oregon. It would be safe to say some of that is rangeland, wheat ranches, and hay or other larger-acreage farms in Eastern Oregon. But there are also many nursery, Christmas tree, grass seed, and other diversified growers that fall into this group.
 
Collectively they generated $3.8 billion in sales in 2007, over 80 percent of total agricultural farm gate sales in Oregon that year. The average gross farm revenue in this group is about $1.3 million.
 
Another interesting statistic about Oregon agriculture is that 98 percent of all farms in Oregon are family owned and operated, regardless of size, type of farm, or organization. About 88 percent are sole proprietors. Another 4 to 5 percent are organized as family partnerships or LLCs. And a similar amount are organized as family corporations for reasons we’ve already discussed. In fact, less than 2 percent of Oregon farms are non-family corporations.
 
Farms of all sizes, shapes, and forms add to the fabric of Oregon agriculture. All are important and we want all to be successful as stewards, businesses, and community citizens. The role of the ODA is to determine how best to assist small, medium, and larg farms to be successful and thrive. We welcome any and all suggestions as we work to achieve our mission.