The Times Journal & Russell County News
Wednesday, Apr. 23, 2014 — RUSSELL SPRINGS & JAMESTOWN, KENTUCKY — russellcounty.net
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Fewer Ky farms, more acres
In Feb. 19 Issue
By Derek Aaron
Times Journal Reporter

Russell County farmers took in more than $43 million from the sale of products in 2007, according to the newly released 2007 Census of Agriculture by the United States Department of Agriculture. That's an average of $54,217 per farm and a 93 percent increase over the last census in 2002.

Raymond Thompson, the county extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, said the number of farms in the county has decreased since 1982 while the average size of local farms has increased.

According to the census, the average size of a farm in Russell County is around 116 acres, an 11 percent increase since 2002.

"That's not a big surprise," Thompson said. "Any state that's had a good cash crop like tobacco can support a lot of small farms."

He said, historically, this county had half-acre tobacco quotas that made a lot of smaller, 40 to 50 acre farms possible.

Thompson said tobacco consolidation quotas were a main reason why the acreage of local farms has shifted over the past three decades. He said in 1982, tobacco made for about 54 percent of the county's agricultural income with livestock counting for the rest.

As burley tobacco farms began to decrease in the late 1990's, down to about $2 million locally today, local farmers began to look elsewhere for their income.

"Today, about 75 percent of it is livestock and 25 percent of it is crops," he said. "So, the animal agriculture has dramatically increased, despite going from 130 dairy farms in the early 80's to 30 today."

Even with the loss in local dairy production, animal agriculture has become the driving force for our local agricultural economy, Thompson said.

"Government payments is something else that has increased by a fairly significant amount of money," he said. In 2002, $500,000 was given out by the government locally. The payments jumped 26 percent to $633,000 in 2007.

"That's understandable with the tobacco buyout program," he said. "There were some other programs through the Farm Service Agency that may have had some increases in there as well."

As stated before, Russell County's most profitable agricultural asset is livestock and according to the census, cattle and calves rank the county fourth in the state.

While Thompson said this may be a generous number, it may not be that unbelievable. He provided 2007 numbers from the Kentucky Department of Agriculture that ranked the county 27th in all cattle and calves with 36,000, 33rd in beef cows with 13,500 and 15th in milk production with 27,400 cows.

"Considering the land area that we have, we rank pretty high," he said. "We're well above where we should be."

Thompson said for the land area, he would think the county would be in the median in these categories.

"Maybe about 60th," he said. He said many eastern Kentucky counties don't have the commodities that this county does and that helps to put us up in the tier we're in, livestock-wise.

"Looking at the cash receipts, we're where we should be (62)," he said. In 2007, the county ranked 73rd in crops with $4,936 and 50th in livestock with $14,818, according to the Kentucky Department of Agriculture.

The census also had the county ranked eighth in the state in goats with more than 1,800 total.

"We've had goats for a really long time, but they've increased a lot recently," Thompson said. "The quality of goat we have now is much better."

He also said the county has always been plentiful in horses, and the census ranked the county 88th out of 120 in that category.

"That has just been a tradition here," he said. "We have some horses for commercial use but a lot of them are just your backyard type of horse."

The census also had some interesting economic characteristics for the county, according to Thompson. The numbers show that 15 farms in the county have a half million dollars or more in sales. Thompson said these farms were full-time dairy or horse farms in the county.

"Any farm that has $100,000 or more in sales, to me, is considered a full-time farm," he said. Including the 15 aforementioned farms, there are 78 farms in the county that meet that criteria.

In the three most plentiful ranges, there were 164 farms in the county in 2007 that sold less than $1,000 in 2007, 131 farms that sold $5,000 to $9,999 and 116 farms that sold $10,000 to $19,999.

In looking at the top crop items in acres listed by the census, Thompson said the soybeans for beans, corn for grain, forage land and tobacco numbers were a bit off and lower than what he thought, but he did point out that the numbers are now two years old. The corn for silage numbers, which rank the county 15th in the state, is accurate, he said. That is 1,675 total county acres for silage.

Statewide, farmers took in $4.82 billion from the sale of farm products in 2007, according to the census.

"Kentucky farmers really outdid themselves in 2007," Agriculture Commissioner Richie Farmer said. "They achieved $4.82 billion in sales while tobacco income was 22 percent lower than in the previous census. That shows Kentucky's investments in agricultural diversification are working."

The number of tobacco farms in Kentucky declined 72 percent since 2002 to 8,113, according to the census. Tobacco acres harvested fell 21 percent from 2002. The federal tobacco quota and price support system was eliminated after the 2004 growing season.

The census showed that slightly fewer people farmed slightly more acres in Kentucky in 2007 than in 2002. Eighty-nine percent of Kentucky's 85,260 agricultural operations are still run by individuals or families, and most are still small farms. The number of farms declined one percent from 2002, but the size of farms increased 1 percent from an average of 160 to 164 acres.

The number of full-time farmers in Kentucky dropped from 54 percent in 2002 to 40 percent in 2007. The average age of farm operators was 56.5 years old, up from 55.2 in 2002.

Twenty-seven percent of agricultural producers were women in 2007, and the number of women who were principal operators increased 10 percent from 2002. African American principal operators dropped from 687 to 505 in the five years after 2002.

Fayette County led the state in equine sales at nearly $410 million and led every U.S. state in that category.

Kentucky continues to have the largest beef cow inventory east of the Mississippi River, numbering 1.17 million head. Total cattle inventory was reported at 2.4 million head, the same as in 2002.

For more information, visit the Web site for the National Agricultural Statistics Service's Kentucky office, www.nass.usda.gov/ky, and click on "Census of Agriculture for Kentucky."

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