Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Reviewing the 2012 Agricultural Census for the Southeast Region

Scott Smith, Regional Economist

The 2012 Census of Agriculture is just that — a census. It is an attempt to count an entire population and generally does not use sampling or statistical techniques to make conclusions about the population. It is conducted every five years and includes all farm operators regardless of whether farming is their primary or secondary occupation. Operators and hired laborers are combined for a total count. There can be a maximum of three operators per farm, but labor hired on a contract basis is not covered.

The Southeast Region agriculture is largely devoted to the livestock business, this by raising cattle or growing hay. There is also some wheat farming worth noting in San Juan County. 2012 net cash income per farm for Grand County was -$3,725. The analogous figure for San Juan County was -$1,522. The vast majority of farms have annual total sales less than $250,000.

Southeast Region 2012 employment was 1,679 jobs according to the census (this number may slightly differ from other data presented because of confidentiality issues). The state’s unemployment insurance data suggests that a very small number of these jobs generate the income or possess the duration to be considered “full time” employment in the urban sense. Further data indicates that most farmers and ranchers are sole proprietors (regardless of how they are organized for tax purposes). Finally, a comparison of the other sources and the census figures shows that most individuals involved in agriculture have their primary job in other sectors of the economy.

The size and composition of the agricultural workforce has changed markedly over time. In 2002, the total Southeast Region agricultural workforce was 839 workers, of which 40 percent was hired labor. That total increased by 112 percent to 1,776 in 2007, yet the share of hired laborers fell to 16 percent in the same period (although this statistic may be skewed downward because of reporting issues). In 2012, the agricultural employment count fell 5 percent to 1,679 and the share of hired labor increased slightly to 20 percent.

In 2002, the labor cost per worker (as defined by dividing annual labor expense by the hired workforce) was $1,270. In 2007, the cost had fallen by 33 percent to $850. In 2012, this number had increased by 15 percent to $980. In contrast, inflation increased by 15 percent and 9 percent as of 2007 and 2012, respectively.

There were 325 principal operators in the Southeast Region in 2002 (the statistics refer to “principal” operator and therefore will not agree with other totals). The number of operators increased to 848 in 2007, which is an astounding 161 percent increase. The count dropped slightly to 827 in 2012. The share of operators relying on other sources of employment has been remarkably constant. In 2002, the proportion was 41 percent. It dropped slightly to 40 percent in 2007. The share then increased to 46 percent in the 2012 Census.

Analysts are unable to convincingly explain the employment patterns with income statistics. One would expect to observe the number of operators falling in concert with the decline in income. Similarly, one should expect that operators would seek other sources of employment when income declines. Farm income per operator was $2,723 in 2002, and then decreased 300 percent to -$2,085 in 2007. In 2012, income per operator declined another 19 percent with a total of -$1,738.