USDA’s 2002 ag census: Not a good year to be counted


WASHINGTON – It will take Jim Ramey a while to wade through the 700 pages of Ohio data from the 2002 National Agriculture Census.

But Ohio’s agriculture statistician is quick to say this about the information: It’s history.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released the data last week from the census – the nation’s largest agricultural information-gathering project.

Single snapshot. The census takes a look at the state of agriculture every five years. It is a snapshot of agriculture at a single point in time.

“It’s a benchmark,” Ramey said, “but it’s history by the time we get it.”

Rough year. The census year, 2002, was a tough year for Ohio farmers. A long, cold and wet spring was followed by a long, hot and dry summer. Many farmers had the worst yields in a decade.

Pasture shortages forced livestock producers to sell animals, Ramey said, which further depressed market prices.

Late in 2002, all 88 Ohio counties received USDA weather-related disaster declaration.

It wasn’t a good year to be counted.

Farm income, land use, planted acreage, crop yields, government payments, and average sales tallied under the 2002 ag census illustrate an “extreme,” not an “average” year down on the farm.

“I’m throwing up the caution flag,” Ramey said about some of Ohio’s figures. “Some things look skewed.”

In 2002, the average Ohio farm had $57,341 in sales and government payments and had net cash farm income of $8,929, Ramey said.

The average value of sales fell by more than $5,400 when compared to the previous ag census in 1997, because of unfavorable weather conditions.

Family still king. Regardless of weather, agriculture in both Ohio and Pennsylvania is dominated by family owners, family partnerships and family corporations.

Individuals and family groups in Ohio operated 91 percent of Ohio’s farms in 2002; partnerships accounted for another 6 percent.

Incorporated farms were only 2 percent of the total but accounted for 28 percent of the gross receipts. Of those corporations, 88 percent were family held and had 10 or fewer stockholders.

Of all Pennsylvania farms, 92 percent were owned by families or individuals and another 6 percent owned by partnerships.

Graying farmers. Pennsylvania farmers were an average age of 53, which has steadily climbed from 50 in the last 20 years.

The average Ohio farmer is nearly 54, nearly four years older than the average Ohio farmer polled in the 1982 ag census.

Farm numbers. The number of Ohio farms dropped 940 to 77,797 in 2002. The census defines a farm as any place that produced or sold $1,000 or more of agricultural products.

Pennsylvania’s farm numbers fell to 58,105, down from 60,222 in 1997.

There were 14.6 million acres in Ohio farms in 2002, or roughly 56 percent of the state’s land area. Pennsylvania had 7.7 million acres in farms in 2002.

The boom is in small farms, however, as the ag census showed farms in the 10 to 49 acre range climbing in both Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Farms in this bracket account for nearly a third of the farms in both the Buckeye and Keystone states.

Farms between 50 and 179 acres account for another 35 percent of total farms in Ohio and 52 percent in Pennsylvania.

A lot of farms are clearly hobby farms. In Pennsylvania, 42 percent had less than $2,500 in farm sales; in Ohio, 37 percent.

More women. Both Ohio and Pennsylvania numbers show an increase in the number of women in farming.

In 2002, 25 percent of all farm operators in Ohio, and 27 percent in Pennsylvania, were women, however, just under 10 percent of Ohio’s principal farm operators were women.

“There’s no question that women are taking a bigger role in agriculture,” Ramey said. “It’s a true partnership, a true management team.”

2002 ag census highlights

*      Ninety percent of U.S. farms are operated by an individual or family.

*      Corporate farms declined by 18 percent from 1997.

*      Estimated market value of land and buildings rose 24 percent.

*      Direct sales to consumers increased 37 percent.

*      The top five states that produced the most in ag sales in 2002 were: California ($25.7 billion); Texas ($14.1 billion); Iowa ($12.3 billion); Nebraska ($9.7 billion); and Kansas ($8.7 billion).

*      Fresno County, Calif., is the No. 1 county, in terms of value of ag products sold, at $2.8 billion.

(Source: USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service)


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