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Highlights of 1997 Virginia Census of Agriculture

Farm Business Management Update, April 1999

By Jim Pease of the Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech

Although the full Census of Agriculture tabulations will not be available until March 20, 1999, the highlights already distributed provide some interesting insights into the changing face of Virginia agriculture. The number of farms has decreased by 1,127, or 2.7 percent since 1992. This change constitutes a much smaller decrease than observed from 1987 to 1992, when 5.8 percent of farms ceased functioning. Overall, the indication is that the period 1992-97 was better for Virginia farmers than the earlier period. However, farms with lower sales were much more likely to disappear during the 1992-97period. Nearly all of the net decrease in farm numbers occurred in farms with sales from $2,500 to$25,000. The number of operators reporting their principal occupation as farming fell by approximately the same number (1,161) as the decrease in total Virginia farms.

Total land in farms stood at 8,228,226 acres in 1997, down less than 1 percent from 1992. From 1987-92, land in farms had decreased by 4.4 percent. The average size of farms has increased little over the past 10 years, and is currently at 200 acres per farm. Over all crops, harvested acres rose by 3 percent from 1992-97, following a 2 percent increase from 1987-92. Most of the increase in harvested crop acres comes from increased hay acres, which rose 8 percent from 1992-97. Corn acres fell by 12 percent from 1992-97.

As in the past, Virginia agriculture is primarily livestock agriculture, with livestock sales in 1997 constituting 2/3 of all sales. Although the number of farms with cattle or calves decreased slightly from 1992, poultry numbers increased 28 percent, with nearly 57 million more broilers and meat-type chickens sold. The number of milk cows fell by 13 percent from 1992-97, following an 11 percent loss from1987-92. Overall, only half of every Virginia dairy farm operating in 1987 was still operating in 1997.

The value of a Virginia farmer's investment has grown dramatically over the past ten years. In1987, the average market value of land, buildings, machinery and equipment was approximately $263,000. This value grew by 21 percent from 1987-92, and by 35 percent from 1992-97 to more than $426,000. Most of this increase comes from farmers' perceived increase in the market value of their land and buildings, up 60 percent from 1987-97.

The market value of agricultural products sold is a value to be treated with some caution, since weather is a primary factor in crop production and crop sales. However, farm sales have increased over the 1987-92 and 1992-97 Census periods by 29 percent and 14 percent, respectively. The average net income of Virginia farmers as a percentage of total farm production expenses was fairly steady over the 1987-97 period, averaging approximately 20 percent over expenses.


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