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Ag Census Shows Fewer But Bigger Farms In Oklahoma

Cattle at Mason Dairy Farm in Kingfisher.
Journal Record
Cattle at Mason Dairy Farm in Kingfisher.

The number of farms in the state continues to shrink while the average farm size increases. KGOU's Katelyn Howard joins Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record, to make sense of this and other findings revealed in the latest Census of Agriculture report.


Full Transcript:

Katelyn Howard: This is the Business Intelligence Report, a weekly conversation about business news in Oklahoma. I'm Katelyn Howard, and with me is Russell Ray, editor of The Journal Record. Today, I'd like to talk about a big industry in our state which is farming. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Statistics Service recently released Oklahoma related data from the latest Census of Agriculture. Your reporter Brian Brus writes that one of the main takeaways is that the number of farms in the state continues to shrink while the average farm size increases. Can you tell us more about this?

Russell Ray: Yes. This actually comes from the 2017 Census of Agriculture, which is held every five years. The number of farms between 50 acres and 999 acres actually declined in Oklahoma since the last census. The average size in Oklahoma is now 435 acres, which is an increase of about 1.6% over the last census. Meanwhile, the number of large farms 1,000 acres or more grew slightly at 2%. And the number of small farms of 49 acres or less actually grew quite significantly at  16 % since the last census. So despite fewer farms, farms are still increasing in value which now stands at 7.5 billion, which is a 5 % increase from 2012.

Howard: And just to clarify, even though the census is from 2017, this is not old information since the amount of data is just so large that it takes more than a year to sort it into usable tables.

Ray: That's right. And so the 2017 census was supposed to be released in February, but it was postponed until April because of the government shutdown earlier this year.

Howard: Oklahoma's industry leaders and legislators have long talked about the loss of our young talent to other states, with college graduates leading the way. Brian writes about how the farming industry is not excluded from this.

Ray: That's right. Industry leaders cited examples of how children in ag families grow up and leave the family farm. As a result, the acreage is typically absorbed into larger farm operations. To help address this issue, Oklahoma Ag Secretary Blaine Arthur said she wants to create an Agriculture Youth Council which would teach students about the opportunities the ag industry can offer.

Howard: A seemingly bright light in this report is that women ag producers increased by nearly 27 %, and Oklahoma is now ranked third in the country for having the largest percentage of female producers. What are we to make of this information?

Ray: Well, the information is more accurate because they changed the demographic questions to better reflect everyone making decisions on the farm. As a result, the number of producers nationwide is up nearly 7 %. And that's because more farms reported multiple producers, and most of those new producers are women.

Howard: These changes in Oklahoma farming are reflected across the country as well. There are now about 2 million farms and ranches in the U.S. which is about a 3.2 % decline since 2012.

Ray: That's right. The average size of a farm is 441 acres which is an increase of 1.6%. More than 105,000 U.S. farms produced 75 % of all sales in 2017, and that's down from nearly 120,000 five years ago. Nationwide, the average farm income is $43,000. In Oklahoma, it's a little more than $16,000.

Howard: Before we wrap this up, I'd like to quickly mention another related story from Brian. He writes that while the overall number of farms continues to decline in Oklahoma, the opposite is happening for small farms near Oklahoma City.

Ray: Yes. It's part of the ongoing urban evolution of the state and its food culture. Between 2012 and 2017, the number of small farms in Pottawattamie County grew from 525 to 757 today.

Howard: Russell Rays is editor of The Journal Record. Thanks for joining me today, Russell.

Ray: My pleasure, Katelyn. Thank you.

Howard: KGOU and the Journal Record collaborate each week on the Business Intelligence Report. You can follow us both on social media. We're on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: @journalrecord and @kgounews. You'll find links to the stories we discussed during this episode at JournalRecord.com. And this conversation, along with previous episodes of the Business Intelligence Report, are available on our website, KGOU.org. For KGOU and the Business Intelligence Report, I'm Katelyn Howard.

The Business Intelligence Report is a collaborative news project between KGOU and The Journal Record.

As a community-supported news organization, KGOU relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online, or by contacting our Membership department.

The Journal Record is a multi-faceted media company specializing in business, legislative and legal news. Print and online content is available via subscription.

Music provided by Midday Static

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