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2012 agriculture census not as positive as it appears

By Katie Demeria

Recently released agriculture numbers could represent a significant boost to the industry between 2007 and 2012. But local agriculture experts warn that the good news may not be all it seems.

The National Agriculture Statistics Service released the 2012 Census of Agriculture earlier this year. According to a Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services news release, Virginia saw several positive trends.

"The market value for crops sold was $1.36 billion, up 58.5 percent from $858 million in 2007," the release stated.

Bobby Clark, agent and unit coordinator with Virginia Cooperative Extension's Shenandoah County office, said the jump is more of a reflection of how good 2012 was, rather than increased prices within the industry as a whole.

"The 2012 year was a combination of good prices and good yields, all at the same time," Clark said. "It was probably one of the best years we've ever had, period. So it's unique in that it hit during the year of the census. That was especially true in the northern valley."

Most of the farmers who did well in 2012 were largely growing corn, soybeans and some barley. It was also a good year for apples.

Mark Sutphin, an Extension agent with the Frederick County office, said crops in the valley were especially helped by weather events in other areas of the United States.

Apple orchards in New York and Michigan, for example, experienced freezes that hurt their crops, allowing Virginia farmers to take advantage of the market prices.

Everything came together in 2012, Sutphin said, to create the ideal year for farmers -- and that ideal is what is reflected in the census.

Farming prices, Clark explained, cycle. Right now, prices are almost half of what they were in the fall of 2012.

"That's the nature of farming," he said.

The 2012 spike in the market created decent prices in 2013, Clark said, but now they are sliding back down again.

Clark said the hope is that high production costs, which also increased in 2012, will also slide down as well in the next year.

Production costs rose in 2012 as a result of high fuel and fertilizer costs. Clark said they rose to at least $100 or $150 an acre. That translates to about a 20 to 40 percent increase.

And according to Clark and Sutphin, those production costs are not decreasing, even though market costs are.

Other areas of farming actually suffered in 2012 due to the increase in the market value of crops. Livestock farmers had to purchase those high-priced grains to feed their herds.

The market value for livestock only increased by 16.9 percent in 2012 compared to 2007, the news release stated.

Average farmers, they said, feel the rising and falling market prices. Sutphin said they "recognize that [2012] was a once in a lifetime year."

"They're the ones who see it in the amount of money that comes through their farming operation," Clark said. "They live it."

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com

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