For the first time in 20 years, there’s a new leader among Oregon’s diverse agricultural commodities in terms of production value. Cattle and calves has regained the top spot with a record breaking year in 2014, overtaking greenhouse and nursery products. It was 1994 when greenhouse and nursery supplanted cattle and calves as number one.
Newly released statistics from USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) provides a preliminary picture of last year’s crop and livestock value of production. The numbers indicate that Oregon agriculture continues to be a major economic contributor to the state. The overall estimate for total production value in 2014 is about $5.4 billion, which is roughly unchanged from the past couple of years. Some commodities have shown tremendous increases while others have declined. The successful ones rely on a formula of good production and high prices for what was sold.
With Oregon producing more than 220 commodities as part of its agriculture, there will always be some winners and some losers any given year. In general, the results of 2014 show more pluses than minuses. The value of agricultural production in Oregon last year includes a top ten list that reflects the new leader, but most of the names are familiar. There is some shuffling in the rank order:
(1) Cattle and calves, $922 million
(2) Greenhouse and nursery products, $830 million
(3) Hay, $703 million
(4) Milk, $656 million
(5) Grass seed, $449 million
(6) Wheat, $302 million
(7) Potatoes, $164 million
(8) Hazelnuts, $129 million
(9) Pears, $127 million
(10) Wine grapes, $118 million
In addition to cattle and calves swapping places with greenhouse and nursery products from the previous year’s list, wine grapes cracked the top ten while onions dropped out. All top ten commodities showed an increase in production value from 2013 with the exception of wheat and potatoes. For the first time in history, Oregon had two commodities above the $800 million mark in production value and four commodities valued at more than a half billion dollars. Onions, Christmas trees, and blueberries just missed the top ten list yet still eclipsed $100 million in production value.
“It was generally a great year for Oregon’s farmers and ranchers,” says Kathryn Walker, special assistant to the director for the Oregon Department of Agriculture. “When you have so many commodities with a production value above $500 million, that’s impressive.”
By far, the most dramatic rise in production value in Oregon comes from cattle country– a nearly 38 percent increase from 2013 to 2014.
“That industry hasn’t been number one since the early 90s, so I’m sure it’s exciting to them to be a leader once again,” says Walker. “There have been some very strong cattle prices the last couple of years and that is reflected in the value of production for cattle and calves.”
The cattle and calves category is also approaching a status enjoyed only once by an Oregon agricultural commodity– the billion dollar club. Greenhouse and nursery products reached $1.039 billion in 2007. A year later, the economic recession took its toll specifically on nursery products and grass seed. Nonetheless, greenhouse and nursery is making its way back and recorded an increase of 11 percent from 2013 to 2014.
Commodities with other increases in production value in 2014 include milk (+23 percent), pears (+14 percent), hay (+11 percent), wine grapes (+10 percent), grass seed (+9 percent), and hazelnuts (+7 percent). Wheat (-22 percent) and potatoes (-3 percent) were the only commodities on the negative side of the ledger.
Some commodities outside the top ten recorded large increases in production value, including sweet corn (+29 percent) and blackberries (+18 percent). Blueberries, which occasionally reaches the top ten, saw a healthy increase (+8 percent) and continues to show strong gains each year.
The preliminary 2014 statistics also show there are now 34,600 farms in Oregon, which is down slightly from the previous year, and the average size of farm has inched slightly to 474 acres. Included in the numbers is a list of commodities in which Oregon is the nation’s leading producer– Christmas trees, hazelnuts, grass seed, blackberries, Boysenberries, black raspberries, storage onions, and potted florist azaleas.
Once again, Oregon’s diversity of agriculture protects the overall industry. Whereas Midwest states may rely on just two or three commodities, Oregon boasts 17 that have a value of at least $50 million.
It’s too early to say how this year’s numbers will shake out. Drought conditions could result in some commodities taking a drop in value of production.
“We are going to have to watch to see how the weather impacts our producers and the yields of their commodities,” says Walker. “But our agriculture industry is resilient. They have faced these kinds of challenges before and typically bounce back.”
When statistics for 2015 are tabulated sometime next year, expect to see another strong showing from the new number one. Cattle prices remains strong and the billion dollar mark for production value is within reach.