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MailTribune.com
  • Survey cites financial hardships of Jackson County farms

    Survey finds many Jackson County farms suffered net loss of $2.5 million
  • Ron Bjork runs cattle on 80 acres straddling Little Butte Creek that his family has owned near Brownsboro for more than 50 years.
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    • Jackson County
      Total number of farms: 1,722
      Total acreage: 214,079
      Those for whom farming is primary job: 967
      Those whose primary job is something else: 755
      Farms owned by women: 438
      Average age of...
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      Jackson County
      Total number of farms: 1,722

      Total acreage: 214,079

      Those for whom farming is primary job: 967

      Those whose primary job is something else: 755

      Farms owned by women: 438

      Average age of farmer: 62

      Average years on present farm: 19.4

      — Source: National Agricultural Statistics 2012 Census
  • Ron Bjork runs cattle on 80 acres straddling Little Butte Creek that his family has owned near Brownsboro for more than 50 years.
    Like many farmers in Jackson County, he considers himself a hobby farmer. Feeding and caring for his herd has been an increasingly expensive and time-consuming sideline, while his real estate business pays the bills.
    "I have a fairly good income with the ranch," said Bjork, who leases land outside Central Point, Eagle Point and Roseburg for his herd. "I do the same as most of the people here, I'm a hobby farmer with a fairly good income."
    Of the 1,722 Jackson County farms identified in the National Agricultural Statistics 2012 Census released last week, just over 3.3 percent reported farm-related sales of more than $100,000. In fact, barely 7 percent generated sales of more than $50,000, indicating those families relied on other jobs, investments or retirement income.
    The census reported the net cash loss for county farms was more than $2.5 million.
    Farming was the chief job for 967 principal operators — including those who are retired — and an avocation for 755. However, 916 of the principal operators reported they worked off the farm at some point during the year, while 503 of that group worked at something else 200 or more days annually.
    "I pay my bills, but dollar-wise I've never gotten rich," Bjork said. "At the end of the year. I look to see whether I make profit or don't. The real estate (business) is more profitable."
    When Bjork's family moved to the Brownsboro area in the late 1950s, the cost of doing business was low enough that local farmers and ranchers could provide for their families without taking on outside employment.
    "When we first moved here, we were able to make payments on the ranch, able to buy a new car, buy a baler — on time over a couple of years — and a tractor, and still make a living."
    The Bjorks ran 100 head of cattle at the time, but starting in the 1960s, he said, the margins began shrinking.
    "The guys that were running cattle on Forest Service or BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands were having to cut back all the time," Bjork said. "The guys were getting squeezed and it got harder, tougher and tougher."
    When assessing local agriculture, geography, terrain and broader economics enter into the discussion. Southern Oregon is a long-haul destination for many cash crops, and unlike miles of rolling hills conducive to grain production in northeastern Oregon or the endless flatland devoted to corn production in the Midwest, crops here are diverse.
    That mix works well for growers' markets and community-supported agriculture sales, but it doesn't necessarily translate into large-scale production.
    "Being diverse becomes their specialty, in that case," said Joe Hess, the local Farm Service Agency executive director. "The most unique thing about Jackson County is the climate, because it sits in its own basin. It doesn't have moisture and precipitation you see in the Willamette Valley, yet it's warmer and the growing season is longer than the east; in Klamath, you can have frost any day of the year.
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