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Farmers require major returns for investments to pay off

PINE BLUFF, Ark. -- A typical farmer is a gambler, a bigger gambler than anyone sitting at a blackjack table in Las Vegas. However, that typical farmer usually views his occupation not as a source of income, but a way of life.

PINE BLUFF, Ark. -- A typical farmer is a gambler, a bigger gambler than anyone sitting at a blackjack table in Las Vegas. However, that typical farmer usually views his occupation not as a source of income, but a way of life.

After the 2008 crop year, which did not live up to its billing, Don Plunkett, county agent-staff chairman for the Jefferson County (Ark.) Cooperative Extension Service office, finds it "amazing" that so many farmers are optimistic and ready to get into the fields as soon as possible.

Last year began with high expectations, Plunkett observed, but proved to be a disaster for many producers. Too many ended the year still owing money to their banker, suppliers and farm equipment dealers because of higher input costs ranging from diesel to fertilizer.

That carry-over debt, coupled with a new farm bill that calls for new divisions of responsibility, would daze many businessmen and women.

The optimists view the lower fuel and fertilizer costs as good signs. They have booked their anticipated fertilizer needs and are preparing for weed control.

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Based on comments made by farmers to county agents, we can expect less cotton, corn and grain sorghum to be planted in Arkansas. Since the acreage in winter wheat is down markedly, that means more soybeans, especially the early varieties, in addition to rice, will be planted.

Agriculture is changing at a much faster pace today than ever before. Forty years ago, cotton was king, but the picture has changed, with rice and soybeans occupying the top two production positions.

A county-by-county view of that changing agriculture landscape is available on the Internet with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service latest Census of Agriculture.

The 2007 Census of Agriculture, available at www.agcensus.usda.gov , will be used in formulating farm policy. In addition to spotlighting trends, the report provides the only source of uniform, comprehensive agriculture for each county in the country.

By the numbers:

- Jefferson County has 489 farms.

- Those farms include 303,080 acres, out of a state total of 13,872,862 acres.

- An average Jefferson County farmer has $1.3 million invested in buildings and land, and another $178,000 in equipment, based on fair market value.

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- In 2007, Arkansas sold agricultural products worth $7.5 billion, ranking 13th among the states. It ranked first in rice acreage and second in the production of broilers and other meat-type chickens and of pullets for flock replacement. Arkansas ranked third in the value of cotton and cottonseed, cotton acreage, poultry and eggs, and aquaculture; and also third in the production volume of turkeys and in cotton acreage.

With stakes that high, perhaps it is easier to understand why farmers are such gamblers.

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