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At a glance
Farmland in northeast Indiana:
Number of farms 2007 2012
Adams… 1,315… …1,476
Allen… 1,649… …1,725
DeKalb… 1,144… …924
Huntington… 766… …695
Kosciusko… 1,235… …1,247
Noble… 1,196… …1,163
Steuben… 719… …562
Wells… 701… …636
Whitley… 809… …710
Totals 9,534 9,138
Source: U.S. Department of Agriculture

Census numbers on farms distorted

Area totals slide, but hobby farmers boost figures, agency says

A rise in “hobby farmers” may eventually skew the numbers in a census tally of agricultural land, an industry leader says.

Roger Hadley, president of the Allen County Farm Bureau, said the number of farms in some counties in northeast Indiana may have increased, but the boost is a bit bogus.

“There are folks with a few acres with horses or vegetables that are being counted in the census data,” he said. “It’s something they do on the side and it’s not their main job. They’re probably not what you think of when you hear the word ‘farm.’ ”

Even so, the number of farms in the region since 2007 decreased 4.1 percent to 9,138.

Nationally, the country saw a 3 percent drop in the number of farmers as 3.2 million growers operate 2.1 million farms on 914.5 million acres of farmland across the United States, according to data released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The agriculture census presents more than 6 million pieces of information, which provide a detailed look at the U.S. farm sector at the national, state and county levels.

Hadley said consolidation and retirements contributed to a decline in farm totals, but the decrease probably would have been more had smaller farms not been counted.

As far as agricultural sales, the top five states were California, $46 billion; Iowa; $30.8 billion; Texas, $25.4 billion; Nebraska, $23.1 billion; and Minnesota, $21.3 billion. Indiana ranked 10th at $11.2 billion.

Columbia City-based Schrader Real Estate and Auction Co. Inc. specializes in farmland. Owner R.D. Schrader said global demand is resulting in spiking commodity prices that bodes well for U.S. growers.

“There are growing populations and rising incomes who can afford to consume chicken and pork, so that means they need corn for feed,” he said. “That’s one reason you’re seeing farm values appreciate the way they have so.”

In Allen County, for example, the average value per acre rose from $4,024 in 2007 to $6,174 in 2012 – a 53 percent increase.

Some of the other key census findings include:

•Both sales and production expenses reached record highs in 2012. U.S. producers sold $394.6 billion worth of agricultural products, but it cost them $328.9 billion to produce those products.

•Three-quarters of all farms had sales of less than $50,000, producing only 3 percent of the total value of farm products sold while those with sales of more than $1 million – 4 percent of all farms – produced 66 percent.

•Eighty-seven percent of all U.S. farms are operated by families or individuals.

•Principal operators were on average 58.3 years old and were predominantly male.

And young, beginning principal operators who reported their primary occupation as farming increased 11.3 percent from 36,396 to 40,499 between 2007 and 2012.

Conducted since 1840, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them.

A link to census data is available on the USDA Open Data portal, www.usda.gov/data.

“Once every five years, farmers, ranchers and growers have the unique opportunity to let the world know how U.S. agriculture is changing, what is staying the same, what’s working and what we can do differently,” Cynthia Clark, the retiring head of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, said in a statement.

pwyche@jg.net

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