ag census

Montana's ag census shows farmers took a substantial hit from drought and low commodity prices.

Incomes for Richland County farmers have taken a substantial hit, according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, recently released by the USDA.

The report shows net farm income for Richland County dropping 25 percent from 2012 to 2017, going from $37.566 million to $28.331 million.

The total number of farms, meanwhile, dropped from 544 in 2012 to 527 in 2017.

The number of farms in most size categories decreased. The notable exceptions were for the category 180 to 499 acres, which went from 64 to 84,and farms from 10 to 50 acres, which increased by three. Large farms of 1,000 acres or more dropped from 278 to 267 over the period.

Cropland also dropped, from 556,505 acres to 479,538. Out of 410 operations with cropland, only 302 reported any harvested acres.

Livestock operations also decreased for the period going from 272 to 253.

Eric Sommers, a statistician with USDA, helped prepare the report for Montana.

“You can see from the numbers how the drought was devastating,” he said. “And you can also see from the numbers what the pulse crop has done for Richland County.”

The online reporting tool shows average farm incomes jumping from $38,335 in 2002 to $57,990 in 2007. Net farm income in 2017 was $53,759, down from 2012 incomes of $69,056, but more than 2002 incomes.

The Census of Agriculture is completed every five years by the USDA, and shows key data points for the nation’s agriculture industry by state and by county. It is a key document used by policy makers as well as agriculture industries to make marketing decisions.

Statewide, Montana farm incomes were down nearly 30 percent since 2012, suggesting that higher input costs, extreme weather, and market volatility have taken their toll all across the state, not just in Richland County.

“The Census of Agriculture is an important tool for both producers and policy makers,” said Montana Department of Agriculture Director Ben Thomas. “While the report shows that Montana farmers have taken a big hit in farm income over the last 5 years, it also shows that our producers aren’t taking those hits lying down, as they continue to diversify and adopt new practices to make their operations more resilient.”

Other highlights from the report for Montana:

• More women are entering the agriculture sector. There were almost 24 percent more female producers in 2017 than in 2012.

• No-till acreage continues to rise, up more than 17 percent from 2012, with a total of 8.05 million acres

• Value-added products are making substantial contributions to Montana’s economy. The state had 292 farms that added value to their raw commodities through either manufacturing or further processing. Their products were worth over $9 million in 2017.

• Specialty crops are rising. Montana added 162 new orchards and its hops production increased from zero to 14,400 pounds.

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