Gains came in drought

on the farm

Rising market more than made up for lower '07 production

November 23, 2008|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Special to The Baltimore Sun

Despite a serious drought, 2007 will not be remembered as a bad year by many Maryland farmers.

Cash receipts (sales at the farm level) jumped 25 percent to just short of $2 billion in 2007.

A more meaningful number, net farm income, rose nearly 22 percent to $724.9 million last year, according to the Maryland Department of Agriculture's summary of farming in 2007, released last week.

Looking back on 2007, it seems that what Mother Nature took away in the form of lower production because of drought was offset by a favorable commodities market.

Severe drought prevailed throughout the 2007 crop year. At season's end, precipitation ranged from just 52 percent of normal in Western Maryland to 77 percent of normal on the Eastern Shore.

"Our gains were driven by price, not higher production," said Barbara Rater, chief statistician at Maryland's Agricultural Statistics office.

Maryland dairy farmers, who have been disappearing at an alarming rate the past three decades, were a big beneficiary of higher prices last year.

Cash receipts from milk marketing last year totaled $207.6 million. This was an increase of 37 percent from the $151.5 million for 2006.

Farmers received an average price of $20 per hundredweight for their milk last year, up from $13.80 the previous year.

The boost in farm sales came despite a drop in milk production. The state dairy herd produced 1.04 billion pounds of milk last year, down 5 percent from the 1.10 billion pounds produced in 2006.

There were 58,000 dairy cows in the state last year. This was down by about 6,000 head, but on average each cow produced more milk.

In 2007, milk per cow averaged 18,017 pounds, up 736 pounds per cow from the previous year.

Poultry is by far the largest farm business in the state. Maryland ranked seventh in the nation last year in the number of broilers produced.

Broilers continue to lead Maryland agriculture farm receipts, counting for 37 percent of total farm sales.

In 2007, the average price per pound for a broiler was 46 cents. The total value of production last year was $732 million, an increase of 36.8 percent over sales the previous year.

The average weight per broiler remained unchanged at 5.4 pounds.

Last year, 373 million broiler-type chicks were hatched in commercial facilities, a decline of less than 1 percent from 2006.

Egg production decreased to 702 million, down from 733 million in 2006.

Turkey production increased. Farmers raised 750,000 turkeys last year valued at $13.65 million. In 2006, they produced 730,000 birds valued at $12.52 million.

Grain farmers padded their wallets last year even while their crops dried in the fields.

It was an interesting year for corn because of a spike in demand and skyrocketing prices.

The U.S. produced the largest corn crop on record, as producers harvested the most acreage since 1933 with the second-highest yield on record.

Maryland followed the national trend and planted 540,000 acres of corn, up 10 percent from 2006 and the largest corn acreage planted since 1992.

The drought took its toll on production, which was estimated at 46.9 million bushels, down 22 percent from the previous year.

Again, it was a case of the market giving what nature took away. As a result of higher prices, corn sales totaled $137.8 million last year, up from $120.8 million in 2006.

As acreage shifted to corn, farmers planted fewer soybeans last year. The combination of fewer acres planted and the drought resulted in the production of 10.3 million bushels of soybeans, the smallest crop since 1987.

But higher prices resulted in soybean sales of $94 million last year, compared with $86 million the previous year.

Maryland's small grain crops, wheat and barley, were mostly mature by the time the drought set in, and as a result production was reasonably good.

Good yields, along with a surge in acres planted, resulted in total production of 11.6 million bushels of wheat last year. It was the largest wheat crop since 2000. Cash receipts from wheat totaled $60.7 million. This was more than double farm sales of wheat the previous year.

Farmers also harvested 34,000 acres of barley last year, up slightly from 32,000 acres harvested in 2006.

The drought reduced the barley yield to 84 bushels per acre, down from 87 bushels per acre the previous year.

Barley sales at the farm totaled $5,748,000 last year, up from $4,163,000.

Last year will not be remembered fondly by livestock farmers. Cash receipts of cattle and calves totaled $81,002,000. This was down from $83,555,000 in 2006, a year when the cost of feeding cattle was considerably lower.

Hog receipts rose slightly last year to $7,303,000 from $7,014,000 in 2006. But last year's hog sales were well below the $9,055,000 posted in 2005.

On the plus side, the number of farms in the state held firm at 12,000 last year as did the land in farm acreage. Farm acreage was 2,035,000 at the end of 2007.

Gross farm income in the state jumped from $2 billion in 2006 to $2.4 billion last year.

Unfortunately, some of this gain was offset by higher production costs. Farmers paid out $1.2 billion to produce their crops and livestock last year. This was up from $1.05 billion in 2006.

Average net income per farm totaled $60,408 last year, up from $49,547 in 2006.

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