Latest statisics show net farm income plummeted 41 percent

POLK COUNTY -- While it seems hard for anybody to make a dollar in this recession, last year was a pretty lousy one for Oregon farmers.

POLK COUNTY -- While it seems hard for anybody to make a dollar in this recession, last year was a pretty lousy one for Oregon farmers.

Growers and ranchers saw a collective 41 percent drop in net farm income in 2009 from 2008, according to an Oregon Department of Agriculture news release last week.

A snapshot of agriculture as a whole showed income at approximately $563 million in 2009. Back in 2004, the state enjoyed a record take of $1.3 billion.

Last year's is the lowest mark in seven years, said Brent Searle, an ODA analyst.

"If any of us think about taking a 41 percent cut in pay, that's pretty staggering," Searle said.

The statistics were derived from the data taken from the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

Searle said it wasn't expenses that triggered last year's farm income freefall, but the low value of what was produced.

The value of Oregon crop production in 2009 fell to just over $3 billion, a 13 percent decrease. Livestock production dropped 12 percent.

"Expenses paid by producers in pesticides, fertilizers, fuel and electricity were down across the board," Searle said. "Farmers were more prudent in using these manufactured inputs ... that certainly softened the blow a little bit."

The USDA report didn't distill data to the county level. But its production numbers are similar to several gross sales figures compiled by Oregon State University Extension Service this summer.

Gene Pirelli, OSU Extension Service specialist, said based on conversations he's had with farmers in Polk County, he doesn't know if net income dropped as steeply here as it did in the rest of Oregon.

Still, 2009 was a break-even year at best for many local growers and ranchers, Pirelli said. Gross sales were down 7 percent, according to OSU extension.

And Polk's biggest commodities, grass seed and dairy, saw declines in gross sales of 17 percent and 24 percent, respectively.

Oregon's neighbors to the north and east fared worse last year.

Washington's net farm income dropped 43 percent, and Idaho 49 percent. The national average was 28 percent.

Searle said 2009 may have been a "bottom-out" year, and that 2010 is showing signs of stabilization of prices of commodities such as grains.

In the report, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said that net farm income thus far in 2010 is up nearly 24 percent from the previous year.

"I think 2010 will be better," Pirelli said. "You have strong cattle and sheep prices, wheat has improved ... but I don't know how well those will carry all of the county's other commodities."


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