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Land, It’s Priceless

Written by Dennis Sun

There are a couple of things we all know about land. They are not making any more of it, and once it is out of agriculture production, it usually stays out and is lost forever. That happens right here in Wyoming, though not as fast as other states, but we’ve had lots of small acreage growth around the energy booming towns and fast growing areas like north and east of Cheyenne. It is the American dream to own land, but many don’t understand the responsibilities of owning land whether it’s 40 acres or hundreds of thousands of acres. It is really not about the size of your “backyard,” it is the management of it.

Whatever the reason, farm and ranch lands are disappearing, and it is happening at an alarming rate. Reading through the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Farms and Lands 2015 Summary that just came out at the end of February, it is alarming just how fast we are losing farms and lands in agriculture.

The summary just mentions farm lands, but their definition of a farm is “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year.” Ranches, institutional farms, experimental and research farms and Indian Reservations are included as farms.

Land in farms consists of agricultural land used for crops, pasture or grazing. Also included is woodland and wasteland not actually under cultivation or used for pasture or grazing, provided it was part of the farm operator’s total operation. Land in farms also includes land owned and operated, as well as land rented from others, and land used rent-free is included as land rented from others. All grazing land, except land used under government permits on a per-head basis, is included as land in farms provided it was part of a farm or ranch. How they define land in a reservation really gets tricky.

The definition of a farm confused me being from Wyoming, but it most likely makes sense to someone sitting at a desk in Washington, D.C. The summery did say the definition of a farm was first established in 1850 and has changed nine times since. The current definition was first used for the 1974 Census.

Nationally, the number of farms in the United States for 2015 is estimated at 2.07 million, down 18,000 farms from 2014. The total land in farms, at 912 million acres, decreased around 1 million acres from 2014, and the average farm size for 2015 was 441 acres, up three acres from the previous year. For Wyoming, the number of farms between 2014 and 2015 dropped by nearly 100 farms and the average farm size rose around 25 acres. I would think it would be more acres.

Nationally, farms with the largest revenue grew, and smaller farms with smaller revenue grew less, which is normal. One wonders, with lower revenue for ag products, will the size stay the same or get bigger as is the national trend?

Either way, there are a lot of opportunities for youth in agriculture these days. Nationally, jobs in agriculture are up and jobs in agriculture have broadened. That’s the good news.