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Rising expenses, falling prices hit area farm incomes

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Farmer Jeff Spence looks over a soybean plant during the Pasquotank Farm Tour in 2017. Falling prices are being blamed for declines in farm income, according to area crop experts.

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By Reggie Ponder
Staff Writer

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Falling prices for crops such as corn and soybeans have been the single biggest cause of declines in farm income, according to area crop experts.

The trend of declining farm income is among the information found in the recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on the results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

Travis Burke, a retired director with the N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and administrator at the N.C. State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said farm commodity prices have not kept pace with expenses.

“Farm income has declined substantially,” Burke said.

Burke, who farms field crops himself, said fertilizer prices are up about 30 percent this year and expenses in general are up while crop prices stay flat or actually decrease.

Farmers are working hard to increase yields in order to try to make money on volume, but bigger yields often depress prices even further, according to Burke.

“Yields are going up but prices keep going down,” Burke said.

Soybean prices over the past 30 years have consistently failed to keep pace with inflation, Burke said.

Al Wood, a field crops specialist with the Pasquotank Cooperative Extension Service, said yields and prices were both up for corn in 2012, which made that one of the better crops years in a long time for many farmers. But in the period from 2012 to 2017 prices dropped significantly even though yields remained strong, Wood said.

Wood said prices for corn had topped $7 a bushel a few years back but now they have dropped below $4 a bushel.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a press release from USDA that the Census of Agriculture is an important tool for understanding what is happening on the nation’s farms.

“We are pleased to deliver Census of Agriculture results to America, and especially to the farmers and ranchers who participated,” Perdue said. “We can all use the Census to tell the tremendous story of U.S. agriculture and how it is changing. As a data-driven organization, we are eager to dig in to this wealth of information to advance our goals of supporting farmers and ranchers, facilitating rural prosperity, and strengthening stewardship of private lands efficiently, effectively, and with integrity.”

In the Albemarle, average net per-farm income by county was:

— Camden, $102,452 in 2017, down from $290,757 in 2012

— Chowan, $147,722 in 2017, down from $156,540 in 2012

— Currituck, $33,543 in 2017, down sharply from $101,263 in 2012

— Gates, $184,629 in 2017, up from $86,820 in 2012

— Pasquotank, $86,925 in 2017, down from $190,432 in 2012

— Perquimans, $149,512, up from $124,840 in 2012.

Total net income from 2012 to 2017 is down: 

— In Pasquotank, to $10.9 million from $25.8 million;

— In Camden, to $8.29 million  from $17.4 million;

— In Currituck, to $2.98 million from $8.3 million;

— In Chowan, to $14.3 million from $22 million;

— In Gates, to $14.3 million from $22 million;

— In Perquimans, to $22.3 million from $23 million.

Nationwide, farm expenses are $326 billion with feed, livestock purchased, hired labor, fertilizer and cash rents topping the list of farm expenses in 2017. Average farm income is $43,053. A total of 43.6 percent of farms had positive net cash farm income in 2017.

The Census found there were 2.04 million farms and ranches in 2017 nationwide, down 3.2 percent from 2012, and the average size was 441 acres. Total agricultural acreage reported was 900 million acres, down 1.6 percent from 2012.

Farms and ranches of 2,000 or more acres make up 58 percent of farmland nationwide, according to the report.

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