California agricultural sales soared throughout the recession and farms grew in size

jnsbranti@modbee.comFebruary 20, 2014 

While 2007 to 2012 may be remembered as the Great Recession by most Californians, the state’s farmers prospered. The national Ag Census, released Thursday, shows the value of California farm products soared nearly 26 percent during those five years, making our state the nation’s top ag producer.

California agricultural sales topped $42.6 billion in 2012, compared with less than $33.9 billion in 2007.

California farmers bucked the national trend by expanding in their acreage nearly 1 percent – more than 207,000 acres – during those years. Nearly 25.6 million acres were farmed in the state in 2012.

The average size of California farms grew nearly 5 percent, increasing to 328 acres. On average, each of the state’s farms generated $547,269 in agricultural sales in 2012.

By comparison to America as a whole, California farms are smaller but more profitable. The average-size farm nationally is 434 acres (nearly one-third larger) but had just $187,093 in sales (about one-third as much).

Of California’s 77,864 farms, however, nearly 65 percent had less than $50,000 worth of sales.

Most of the big ag money was made by 8 percent of California’s farms; those 6,366 operations generated more than $1 million each in sales in 2012.

California farmers received relatively little money from the government, compared with those elsewhere in the county. Nationwide, more than $8 billion in government payments went to farms, which boosted ag incomes more than 2 percent in 2012.

But in California, government payments totaled less than $147 million, which was less than 0.3 percent of what the state’s farmers earned elsewhere.

Another thing different about California: Farmers here are about two years older – age 60 on average – than they are elsewhere in America. Nearly 14 percent of California farms are run by people 75 or older.

Men continue to dominate the farming ranks nationwide. Men run 82 percent of the farms in California and 86 percent nationwide.

Far more detailed Ag Census data for individual counties will be released later this year.

The survey is taken every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The 2012 data was gathered last year and is being released this year.

Nationwide, the census identified 2.1 million farms, which was down 4 percent from 2007. That follows a long-term trend of declining numbers of farms.

Farms in the United States sold almost $395 billion in products in 2012, 33 percent higher than in 2007.

The amount of farmland in the United States shrank over those five years, falling from 922 million to 915 million acres.

One area of growth for agriculture is farms that are minority-operated. The number of farms operated by Hispanics, African Americans, American Indians and Asians grew from 2007 to 2012.

The number of Hispanics who were principal operators of farms grew 21 percent.

Still, farm country remains overwhelmingly white – 92 percent of farms are operated by whites, while less than 64 percent of the general population is white and the minority population is growing.

The Associated Press contributed to this story. Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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