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Census figures show Beltrami County losing farms

Beltrami County lost 10 percent of its farms from 2002 to 2007, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture, released last month.

The Census of Agriculture, taken every five years, showed that the number of farms in Beltrami County declined from 746 in 2002 to 674 in 2007.

Even though with fewer farms, the 2007 Census showed the market value of production from those farms increased 21 percent over the five-year period -- from $17.3 million in 2002 to $20.97 million in 2007.

"The Census of Agriculture is a valuable tool that provides the general public with an accurate and comprehensive view of American agriculture. It's also a set of benchmarks against which this department must measure and demonstrate its performance to agriculture and the taxpayer," U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said last month when the nationwide statistics were released.

The 2007 Census counted 2,204,792 farms in the United States, a net increase of 75,810 farms, USDA said.. Nearly 300,000 new farms have begun operation since the last census in 2002. Compared to all farms nationwide, the new farms tend to have more diversified production, fewer acres, lower sales and younger operators who also work off-farm.

In the past five years, U.S. farm operators have become more demographically diverse. The 2007 Census counted nearly 30 percent more women as principal farm operators. The count of Hispanic operators grew by 10 percent, and the counts of American Indian, Asian and Black farm operators increased as well.

The Beltrami County figures show virtually no change in average farm size -- from 312 acres in 2002 to 313 acres in 2007. But total land in farms dipped 9 percent, from 232,735 acres in 2002 to 210,833 acres five years later.

In the latest market value figures for Beltrami County, 46 percent or $9.6 million came from crop sales and 54 percent or $11.3 million, from livestock sales. The average market value per farm rose 34 percent, from $23,209 in 2002 to $31,116 two years ago.

"In the spirit of President Obama's call to make government more transparent, inclusive and collaborative, I will be directing my team at USDA to review the findings of the 2007 Census and propose ambitious, measurable goals to make sure that the People's Department is hard at work for all the people -- our diverse customers and the full diversity of agriculture," Vilsack said.

The Beltrami County survey found that government subsidies to farms in the county rose 18 percent during the period, from $1.024 million to $1.207 million. The average per farm, however, declined 20 percent, from $6,735 to $5,389.

Nationally, the latest census figures show a continuation in the trend toward more small and very large farms and fewer mid-sized operations. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of farms with sales of less than $2,500 increased by 74,000. The number of farms with sales of more than $500,000 grew by 46,000 during the same period.

Census results show that the majority of U.S. farms are smaller operations. More than 36 percent are classified as residential/lifestyle farms, with sales of less than $250,000 and operators with a primary occupation other than farming. Another 21 percent are retirement farms, which have sales of less than $250,000 and operators who reported they are retired, USDA said.

The 2007 Census showed Beltrami County ranked third among the 87 Minnesota counties for the number of bison, seventh for wild rice with 2,596 acres, ninth for oats for grain at 4,730 acres and for forage land used all for hay at 44,252 acres.

The county ranked 43rd in cattle and calves at 49,706 head and 32nd in layers, with 1,963.

The survey revealed that the highest number of farms -- 242 -- had less than $1,000 in value of sales. Seven farms listed more than $500,000. A significant number fell between $1,000 to $20,000.

The average age of the principal farm operator in Beltrami County was 56.8, with 245 operators listing farming as their principal occupation and 429 operators listing something else.

The 2007 Census nationally found that 57 percent of all farmers have Internet access, up from 50 percent in 2002. For the first time in 2007, the census also looked at high-speed Internet access. Of those producers accessing the Internet, 58 percent reported having a high-speed connection.

That figure wasn't cited in the Beltrami County demographics.