Census: Farms growing
The 2007 Census of Agriculture shows North Dakota farms are growing, but state agriculture officials don't agree.
The census, released earlier this month, shows a 4 percent change from 2002 to 2007, in the number of farms. It went from 30,619 farms to 31,970 farms.
State Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson said he feels like the results are accurate, but the boundaries in which the study was taken may have altered the results.
"There is a significant increase in both the very large farms and the very small ones," Johnson said. "It is the very small ones that I think is more suspect."
Johnson said the United States Department of Agriculture defines a farmer as anyone who would normally sell $1,000 worth of agriculture products a year, making even those with one or two cows classified as a farmer.
"It is more difficult to capture those very, very small farms," Johnson said. "They change quite often; they tend to be around the larger cities and even involve people that have full-time jobs and just want a rural lifestyle."
The change may not actually have to do with an increase in farms, but rather the census staff making more of a concerted effort to retrieve information this time, rather than the last census in 2002, Johnson said.
"It's probably not as dramatic as the statistics suggest," Johnson said. "They were probably undercounted to a greater degree in 2002."
The census is completed every five years, he said.
Statistics show that Stark, Billings, Golden Valley, Hettinger and Adams counties grew in the number of farms, whereas Bowman and Dunn counties showed a decline.
As a whole, there was an increase in farm land, but the average size of farms showed a decrease. Johnson said the increase in the very large farms was expected.
The average age of farmers in North Dakota was 56.5, but Johnson said he feels that's a little low, due to the fact that the smaller farms with full-time working professionals were factored into that.
"I think it would be a mistake to conclude that farm numbers, in the traditional sense of what we think of as farmers, are increasing," Johnson said. "They are not. When people in North Dakota think of farmers, they think of someone who is selling $100,000 or more in agricultural products a year. The farms in those sized categories have actually decline."
Johnson said as commissioner, the numbers he more closely pays attention to are the economic numbers.
"There was a very large increase in both the gross sales and in net income per farmer between 2002 and 2007," Johnson said. "In 2007, that's when we say the run up in commodity prices that ultimately peaked in 2008. We had higher market prices going into the fall of 2007, and a lot of folks sold their 2007 crop when they may not normally have done. That is captured in this census of ag report."
Johnson added the high number of sales comes almost exclusively from crops, not from livestock.
"People may see that farmers did a lot better from 2002 until 2007," Johnson said. "Livestock income did not go up very much, it was pretty flat."
To view census data, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov.