179 people in county identify as ‘new and beginning farmers’
Say what you want about farming (read revenue) in Rappahannock County, but today there are 42 more “farms” (439) in the county than there were in 2012 (397), an 11 percent increase. Also, 179 people in Rappahannock identify themselves as “new and beginning farmers.”
That according to the 2017 Census of Agriculture for Rappahannock County, the first in five years released by the National Agriculture Statistics Service.
With the additional number of farms and farmers, it’s not surprising that farm acreage in the county has also increased, totaling 70,182 acres — 12 percent more than in 2012 when 63,000 acres were “farmed.” The average size of a Rappahannock farm — 160 acres — is an increase of 1 percent in five years.
But as pointed out in the 2018 Foothills Forum-Rappahannock News series “A Fraught Future?” a growing number of Rappahannock farms are what old-timers refer to as “city farms” or “hobby farms” — parcels where owners grow only hay or raise enough crops or livestock to qualify for land-use deductions on their Rappahannock County property taxes.
“Any agricultural property that generates at least $1,000 a year in gross sales is considered a farm by both the Census of Agriculture and the state’s land-use program,” wrote reporter Randy Rieland. “That could help explain why the average revenue figures for Rappahannock’s farms have remained low; owners of many such ‘hobby farms’ have other sources of income.
“In fact, longtime farmers will tell you that the number of people in the county making a living solely through farming can be counted on two hands. Maybe one.”
Fifty percent of state agriculture sales by Rappahannock farmers as of Dec. 31, 2017 were crops (including a lot of hay apparently); the other 50 percent livestock, poultry and other products.
Top crops by county acreage: hay, 20,811 acres; corn, 218 acres; apples, 211 acres; and grapes, 202 acres.
A majority of Rappahannock farms (167 or 38 percent) had fewer than $2,500 in sales in 2017; 63 farms were below $4,999 in sales; and 70 farms under $9,999. At the same time, 62 farms had sales of up to $24,999; 23 farms as much as $49,999; 26 farms to $99,999; and 28 farms saw $100,000 or more in sales.
That said, the trend of smaller farms in Rappahannock continues. The average size farm in the county in 2012 was 158 acres, about half as much acreage as in 1962. Today, there are 39 farms measuring 1 to 9 acres; 177 are 10 to 49 acres (40 percent of the total); 137 from 50 to 179 acres; 53 farms from 180 to 499 acres. Another 22 farms measure 500 to 999 acres, while 11 farms are 1,000 acres or more.
Other intriguing facts in the Rappahannock farming profile: there are 730 agriculture “producers” today in the county, of which 405 are men and 325 are women. As for age, 51 of the farmers are under 35; 366 are age 35 to 64; and 313 are 65 and older.
As for race, 705 of the county’s ag producers are white, and a mere 6 are African American.
In addition, 15 percent of Rappahannock farms sell directly to consumers; 29 percent hire farm labor; 98 percent are “family farms,” and 78 percent have internet access.
As of 2017, Rappahannock County ranked 71st in the state (out of 98 agriculture producing counties) for market value of agricultural products sold (nationwide, Rappahannock ranks 2,657 of 3,077 ag-producing counties).
Rappahannock is Virginia’s 12th largest producer of fruits and berries and is ranked 43rd for cattle and calves.
Speaking of livestock and other inventory, there are still more cows than people in the county: 12,997 cattle and calves; 2,766 layers; 1,416 broilers and other meat-type chickens; 663 sheep and lambs; 618 horses and ponies; 491 goats; 126 turkeys; and 41 hogs and pigs.
Finally, in specific numbers, the 2017 market value of products sold by Rappahannock farms was $10,145,000, a 9 percent increase since 2012. Farm related income was $1,902,000, a 46 percent increase. However, add in farm production expenses of $15,089,000 — a 15 percent jump over 2012— and the net cash farm income in 2017 was at minus-$2,953,000.
As for the “per farm” average, market value of products sold in 2017 was $23,108, a 1 percent decrease, with farm related income put at $12,849, still a 31 percent increase above 2012. But figure in total per farm production expenses that average $34,372 (4 percent higher than in 2012) and net cash farm income is minus-$6,727, 13 percent below five years ago.