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Oregon farmers post record sales in 2008

The Associated Press

CORVALLIS, Ore. — Oregon farmers and ranchers posted a record $4.9 billion in sales last year to mark the sixth consecutive year of growth.

A new report by Oregon State University said that 2008 sales improved 1.2 percent over a revised figure of $4.8 billion generated in 2007.

Officials said the slight improvement last year was due to increases in crops and livestock that offset decreases in ornamental crops, forest products and cattle.

Overall, crops made up 71 percent of all sales, growing 1.3 percent to $3.5 billion in 2008 compared with the previous year, the report said.

Sales of livestock, dairy products and poultry which made up the remaining 29 percent inched up 1.1 percent to $1.4 billion in 2008 with increases in prices for dairy and poultry commodities.

The annual report released this week by the OSU Extension Service noted that cattle sales fell 6.6 percent because of declines in inventory and prices.

But cattle still managed to make their way to the top of the farm sales list with $664 million.

In second place, were nursery crops at $624.5 million, down nearly 11 percent due to reduced shipments at lower grower prices. The nursery crops category excludes greenhouse crops, which are estimated separately.

Hay and forage posted the biggest annual increase of all the 12 broad commodity groups listed in the report, soaring 23.6 percent to $458.1 million in 2008 with help from higher prices for alfalfa hay and other types of hay.

A combination of factors caused hay prices to increase, according to Mylen Bohle, an OSU Extension forage agent in central Oregon.

The main reason, he said, was that lucrative prices for corn and wheat lured farmers to plant them instead of alfalfa. Also, protein-rich supplements such as soybean meal increased in price so dairy farmers replaced a portion of those supplements with cheaper alternatives such as alfalfa hay.

Additionally, the price of fuel and fertilizers skyrocketed so farmers had to tack those expenses onto the cost of producing the hay, Bohle said.

Close behind the hay and forage category were small fruits and berries, jumping 23 percent to $170.3 million compared to 2007, partly due to higher grower prices for most berry crops except blueberries.

Marion County reported the most sales among Oregon's 36 counties with $604 million in 2008. Of that, $460.9 million came from crops. Umatilla County ranked second with $379 million in total sales.