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Ag sector in area strong according to new census



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February 18, 2009
TRI-CITY AREA — The results are in for the 2007 Census of Agriculture and the news is encouraging.

"(The 2007 Census of Agriculture) demonstrated a pattern of growth and diversity over the last five years, a pattern I know will continue to be a building block in rebuilding Michigan's economy," said Michigan Department of Agriculture Director Don Koivisto.

The last ag census was taken in 2002.

Locally, the numbers for Lapeer and St. Clair counties saw things like farmland acreage drop but market values jump in five years' time.

Michigan mirrored the nation in documenting an overall increase in the number of farms, growing five percent from 53,315 farms in the state in 2002 to 56,014 in 2007.

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In Lapeer County, the number of farms rose from 1,187 to 1,317 in 2007. In St. Clair County, there were 15 percent fewer farms, dropping from 1,260 to 1,027.

Both counties saw a drop in land in farms. Currently, there are 176,000 acres of farmland in Lapeer County, down seven percent from 2002. Land in farms in St.Clair County is at 160,480 acres, a 12 percent drop.

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The Michigan Farm Bureau noted that the majority of new farms in Michigan tend to be small operations with more diversified production, fewer acres, lower sales and younger operators who also work off the farm. The stats show that nearly 80 percent of Michigan farms have less than 180 acres, and 61 percent of Michigan farms generate $10,000 or less in sales.

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Grains and beans, dairy products and vegetables are king of the crops in Lapeer County, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture.
Census data reaffirms that nearly all Michigan farms, 87 percent, are single family-operated. Eight percent are partnerships, and 1 percent estates.

Tallies also reveal significant increases in agricultural sales over the past five years, offset by dramatic upswings in the price of farm inputs.

The value of agricultural sales in Michigan totaled $5.75 billion in 2007, up nearly $2 billion from 2002. During this same period, however, production expenses also grew by $1.5 billion. Farmers reported price increases of 107 percent for fuel and oil, 90 percent for feed, and 88 percent for fertilizer.

In Lapeer County, the average value in sales per farm was $52,427, up 23 percent from 2002. In St. Clair, that figure jumped 48 percent and stood at $47,365.

"The increase in value of gross sales is impressive, but most of the gain is tempered by the fact that farm input expenses also rose dramatically," said Farm Bureau Commodity and Marketing Department Manager Bob Boehm.

"Still, agriculture remains a bright and growing sector in Michigan's weak economy and, as long as people need to eat, farmers are committed to supplying people with food."

The average per farm government payment in both counties were down.

New survey questions explored practices such as community supported agriculture and direct marketing. The Census found that in Michigan:

•Organic production totaled nearly $32 million, up $25 million from 2002.

•Direct marketing totaled more than $37 million on over 6,000 farms. The number of farmers using the Internet to direct market their products increased by 19.3 percent in five years.

•500 farms did business using community supported agriculture arrangements.

•Agritourism approached $23 million on 645 farms. That compares to 2002 when only $3.3 million was recorded for the same number of farms.

"Michigan farmers are utilizing new marketing ideas to enhance their income opportunities, and we're seeing them respond to the growing popularity of agritourism and heightened consumer demand for locally produced food," said Boehm.

The 2007 Census also revealed the following information about Michigan agriculture:

•Land in farms, 10 million acres, is down slightly from 2002.

•The average size farm is 179 acres.

•The top commodity sectors in Michigan are: grains, oilseeds, dry beans, accounting for 30 percent of sales; milk and dairy products, 22 percent; and nursery, floriculture, and greenhouse, 11 percent.

•Farm employment totaled 86,000, with a total payroll of $607 million.

•56 percent of farm operators have another occupation, a 10 percent increase in five years.

•Roughly one-half of farm operators are at least 55 years old.

•The number of female operators has jumped by nearly 40 percent.

Complete census results are available online at www.agcensus.usda.gov.

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