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Published February 11, 2009, 12:00 AM

Don't buy ag census statistics

Thursday’s (Feb. 5) Forum had a report about the ag census showing farm numbers, comparing 2002 to 2007, as well as other statistics. The Friday Forum had an editorial about how important the agricultural sector is to all people in North Dakota.

By: Melvin Schramm, Carrington, N.D.

Thursday’s (Feb. 5) Forum had a report about the ag census showing farm numbers, comparing 2002 to 2007, as well as other statistics. The Friday Forum had an editorial about how important the agricultural sector is to all people in North Dakota.

I agreed with the editorial and some of the statistics regarding the farm census, but I disagree with the number of farms in North Dakota when they compare 2002 with 2007.

The number of farms hasn’t changed much since the 1997 census, according to the statistics, but you would have to be a

city-dweller to believe this. A drive through the countryside will show abandoned farmsteads all over the state. Maybe not so much in the Red River Valley, but the rest of North Dakota is losing farmers in large numbers. Granted, there are more hobby farms, especially near cities, but, again, many of them don’t have people living on them year-round.

Let’s look at what is wrong with these statistics. As the farms have gotten larger, because of economy of scale, there are more people involved with these large farms. An example would be a farm that the father had established at 2,000 acres, and now two married sons have joined the operation and it has grown to 8,000 to 10,000 acres. The father and his two sons are listed as farm operators. Now to get around the government program payments, their wives are added as farm operators.

Now instead of one farm operator, you have six people listed as farm operators. There is still only one farm, but it is much bigger. As in a lot of cases, the mother does the farm bookkeeping and a lot of the running of errands and is on the farm payroll. The two daughters-in-law work off the farm to supplement the income and get health insurance for their families. As far as being listed as an operator, they probably couldn’t tell you what is growing on the land they supposedly manage.

A report issued about a year ago stated that there were 8,000 women farm operators in North Dakota. That is how you can inflate the statistics.

I believe that if all the farm operations are centered on one farmstead, it should be considered as one farm regardless of how many operators there are. Each couple should be considered as one farmer, just like the neighbor down the road with a smaller operation.

If anyone wants to challenge me that there are more farms today than five or 10 years ago, you pick a county and we’ll go out and count every farm.

If I’m wrong, I’ll pay for the gas, and, if you are wrong, then you pay for the gas.

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