By Joseph Ditzler

The Bulletin

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Farms in Central Oregon were larger in 2012, on average, than five years earlier, but there were fewer of them, according to the latest census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

From 2007 to 2012, the average age of the Central Oregon farmer climbed from 58 years old to nearly 60, a continuing trend. The numbers may hide the fact that younger family members are working or managing farms owned by their fathers, mothers or other members of a previous generation. The farming community is concerned about its graying ranks, however, said Tim Deboodt, Oregon State University extension agent in Crook County.

“Almost all the farm organizations acknowledge it and are concerned about it,” he said.

The USDA conducts the Census of Agriculture every five years; the department released its 2012 Census of Agriculture results in May.

The market value of all Jefferson County farm products climbed 15 percent, to $65 million, in 2012, according to the census. Crook County market value rose 35 percent to $42.3 million; Deschutes County market value increased 4 percent to $20 million.

The trend toward consolidation into fewer but larger farms runs counter to the overall trend in Oregon, said Jim Johnson land-use and water planning coordinator for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. The nature and variety of crops grown in Central Oregon help explain that phenomenon, he said. Market conditions induced some farmers to expand their operations by leasing more land to plant money-making crops.

“When you look at Central Oregon being dominated by high-value crops and forage and livestock, those prices skyrocketed in those five years,” he said.

For example, rising beef prices benefited ranchers in Crook County, which ranked ninth among Oregon counties for cattle production. Crook ranked sixth for forage crops, like hay, which also escalated in price and demand. So ranchers also paid more for hay, the largest expense in their operations.

Overall, production expenses on Central Oregon farms rose by $19,500 on average, according to census data. Jefferson County farmers saw the largest five-year increase in expenses, an average of $34,000 per farm.

— Reporter: 541-617-7815,