Jim Pease, Extension Economist, Farm Management, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics, Virginia Tech
The 2012 Census of Agriculture shows a strong economic sector with a big “footprint” on Virginia farmland. In terms of harvested acres, the Census indicates that the 4 principal grains and oilseeds harvested are soybeans (578,852 acres), corn grain (338,132 acres), wheat (241,979 acres), and barley (37,023 acres). Harvested acres increased over 2007 for soybeans (+18%), wheat (+21%), and barley (+33%), but fell for corn (-14%), reflecting lower corn price expectations.
The 2012 Census reflects relatively good sales for the Virginia grain and oilseed sector. In 2012, 4,821 Virginia farms sold $633.7 million in grains and oilseeds, up sharply from $269.8 million (+135%) from 2007. All grain and oilseed product sales increased from 2007, led by soybeans (+192%), barley (+181%), corn (+108%), and wheat (+80%). These stronger market sales were led by a somewhat more concentrated group of producers, with 1,213 farms producing 75% of total grain and oilseed sales.
Turning to specific grain and oilseed crops, the number of farms producing corn for grain in 2012 was 2,857, down from 3,063 farms in 2007. The number of corn grain acres harvested remained fairly steady at about 330,000 acres except for the steep jump of over 15% in 2007 acres in response to high corn grain prices. Thus, Virginia corn grain farms are getting larger. Forty-six corn farms produced more than 1,000 acres each, and the largest 246 farms selling slightly less than one-half of total corn sales, or more than $110 million of corn grain.
Wheat for grain was harvested by 1,601 farms in 2012, which is 19% above 2007. Wheat acreage was 241,979 acres in 2012, steadily increasing from the 2007 and 2002 Census. Wheat production hit 14.8 million bushels in 2012, up 20% from 2007. Wheat production has also grown somewhat more concentrated, with 23 Virginia farms harvesting more than 1,000 acres each, and the 175 largest wheat farms selling slightly less than one-half of total wheat sales, nearly $42 million.
There were 594 Virginia farms producing barley in 2012, up 12% from 2007. Barley acres harvested was also up by 33% from 2007. Barley production was 2.9 million bushels in 2012, up a whopping 45% from 2007. Total Virginia barley sales totaled $10.8 million in 2012, with the largest 37 such farms selling $4.6 million, or about 43 percent of total barley sales.
Virginia farms harvesting soybeans increased from 2,104 farms in 2007 to 2,512 farms in 2012 (+19%). Soybean acreage harvested reached 578,852 acres in 2012, surpassing one-half million acres for the first time since at least 1992. Total soybean sales were $286.1 million in 2012, fully 127% higher than 2007 sales. Among soybean farmers, 110 farms harvested more than 1,000 acres each, and the largest 242 farms sold nearly $125 million, or about 44% of total soybean sales.
Although increased grain and oilseed sales indicate improved farmer gross incomes, it must be noted that production expenses for such farmers increased at a rapid pace as well between 2007 and 2012. Across all Virginia farms (crop and livestock), 2012 production expenses reported in the Census were nearly $3.5 billion, up 29% from the 2007 Census. For the grain and oilseed sector, the overall picture indicates relatively better net returns compared to earlier years. However, the sector now faces uncertain prices and an altered farm safety net in the 2014 Farm Bill.