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Farming by the numbers

Like numbers? The 2007 U.S. Agricultural Census has lots of fascinating numbers for anyone who farms or cares about the food system. You can go on-line to download or read everything– national numbers or a state-by-state breakdown. (Minnesota here.) Among the more interesting findings:

• Minnesota farm figures track national trends in most areas. Farm numbers increased nationally, but growth came mainly in the biggest and smallest operations. While Minnesota gained a few more farms, overall farm acreage in the state decreased by a little more than half a million acres.

• Big farms keep on growing. In MN, the number of farms with sales of more than half a million dollars went up by 2,801 farms. (The number of farms with less than $2500 in sales went up by 1,654).

• Nationally, the number of farms with sales greater than $500,000 increased by 46,000 from 2002 to 2007, while the total number of farms grew four percent to 2,204,792. That number is somewhat deceptive, as the greatest growth came in farms with sales of less than $1,000 — clearly hobby farms. (Remember that the sales figures are gross sales — a farm with $100,000 in sales has a profit margin that is far lower.) The number of farms in the $100,000 to $249,000 category shrank slightly, while all higher levels showed growth. Less than half of all farm operators said farming was their primary occupation.

• Family farm numbers declined in Minnesota. MN farms larger than 2,000 acres and those smaller than 180 acres increased in number, while the state lost about two thousand middle-sized farms. The number of MN farm operators identifying farming as their principal occupation dropped by about 20 percent, going from 50,808 to 39,628.

• Organic farms are a big growth sector. Even as the number of family farms in Minnesota continued to decline from 2002 to 2007, family-operated organic farms increased. MPR reports:

For the first time, the census of agriculture includes information on organic farms. According to the census, in 2007 there were 718 Minnesota farms producing organic crops. That’s a 66 percent gain from the best previous estimate, a 2005 state report. Jim Riddle runs an organic farm outreach program for the University of Minnesota and he said organic food should be a growth area for years to come.

“It’s still a supply and demand driven market and there’s just a very strong demand for organic products,” said Riddle.

Nationally, organic food sales have been growing at 15-20 percent per year until the recession hit, and even now continue to increase by about five percent per year.

• Nationally, farms with more than one million dollars in sales accounted for 59 percent of all agricultural production nationwide. In 2002, the million dollar farms accounted for only 47 percent of all ag sales.

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