Between 2007 and 2012, the number of Jackson County farms declined by 13 percent and land devoted to agriculture decreased by nearly that much as well, according to government figures released Friday.
Long-time rancher Jon Elliott finds no mystery in that trend.
"The bottom line here in Jackson County is the farms are relatively small, the owners are aging and the cost of doing business is increasing," said Elliott, a cattle rancher for more than 50 years and former Oregon Cattlemen's Association board member.
The Census of Agriculture for 2012, prepared by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, showed the average farm size in the county is 124 acres.
"Zoning changes are increasing around cities and towns so there is more buildable land," Elliott said. "Overall, it isn't fun any more; some of us just don't know any better."
The market value of products sold by Jackson County farms in 2012 was more than $64.1 million, well short of the $79.1 million figure of five years ago, but more than the $54.2 million reported in 2002.
The median size farm was 17 acres, with 722 operations falling into the 10- to 49-acre category. The government counted 519 farms between 1 and 9 acres; 321 between 50 and 179 acres; 119 between 180 and 499 acres; 20 spreads of 500 to 999 acres; and 21 operations of more than 1,000 acres.
"The biggest thing in Jackson County is that almost all of them would have to be classified as hobby farms," Elliott said.
"The cities' urban reserves are moving out and those places are slowly being eaten up. They are worth way more under houses than they are under alfalfa."
About 45 percent of the local farmers reported annual sales of less than $2,500. The preponderance sold their products for between $2,500 and $25,000 each year. Just over 3 percent, 58 farms, reported sales of more than $100,000.
The census showed the average age of a local farmer rising from 58.9 years in 2007 to 61.6 years in 2012. The 60- to 64-year-old category remained unchanged, but there were 440 farmers older than 70, up from 370 five years earlier. In virtually every category under 60, the decline was steep, although six farmers reported they were under 25 in 2012, compared with two in 2007.
Part of it, Elliott said, is simple economics.
"It's hard to make a living as farmer," Elliott said. "It costs $90 per acre just to have water delivered, and then you have to pressurize it. Fuel costs are up, everything is up."
Ron Fumasi, who runs cattle on 1,030 acres off of Highway 140, said water, energy and fuel issues are all hampering operations.
"The price of grain and hay are extremely high," said Fumasi, who has been in the business 22 years. "Luckily, calf prices are extremely high to match the feed costs, otherwise we wouldn't be able to make it."