The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) released its 2017 Census of Agriculture last week, revealing the latest county-level trends in farm operations from data collected every five years by the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The census indicates Baldwin County remains one of the state’s top producers, even though the total number of farm operations declined from a high of 2,278 in 2007 to 1,684 in 2017. The total number of acres operated has also declined from 189,815 to 174,803 over the same time period, part of a nationwide trend that shows farm numbers and operated land in farms have declined since the last census in 2012.
At the same time, there continue to be more of the largest and smallest operations and fewer middle-sized farms, the USDA reported, while the average age of all farmers and ranchers continues to rise.
According to Kim Wilkins, agronomy regional agent at the Alabama Cooperative Extension Service, Baldwin County stands out in Alabama because “that land can be hard to come by” and “a lot of farmland has been sold for housing developments.”
Still, new farm technology and innovations in agricultural science have increased productivity and “the farm sizes have remained somewhat consistent,” Wilkins said.
All told, Baldwin County sold $120,382,000 worth of commodities from its farms in 2017, representing a roughly $15 million decline from five years prior. But that was still a sharp increase from 2007 and earlier, when sales did not eclipse $100 million.
The net cash income of each farm operation averaged $35,436 in 2017, up significantly from $15,247 in 2002 and $18,527 in 2007. The assets of Baldwin County farms exceeded $1 billion for the first time in 2017, with land and buildings valued at $5,822 per acre, and averaging $1,208,662 per operation.
Across Alabama, the Department of Agriculture and Industries reported Alabama producers sold $6 billion worth of agricultural products, but it cost them $4.6 billion to produce these products.
In Baldwin County, 1,148 people were counted as full-time hired labor, accounting for a payroll of more than $15 million. The average Alabama farmer in 2017 was 58 years old, operated 211 acres, had $147,334 in sales, received $8,892 of government payments and paid $113,706 in production expenses.
Generally speaking, Wilkins said, although fewer younger people are pursuing agricultural careers, “the demographics are changing.”
“Farming is hard work not everyone wants to take that on,” she said. “Some years are better than others. As a whole, people tend to see food prices in the grocery store and think farmers make a lot of money, but farmers only get a very small percentage.”
This page is available to subscribers. Click here to sign in or get access.
It looks like you are opening this page from the Facebook App. This article needs to be opened in the browser.
iOS: Tap the three dots in the top right, then tap on "Open in Safari".
Android: Tap the Settings icon (it looks like three horizontal lines), then tap App Settings, then toggle the "Open links externally" setting to On (it should turn from gray to blue).