Census of Agriculture in Southwest Minnesota

Census Ag SRDC Presentation

Census of Ag SRDC Presentation

  • The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) conducts the Census of Agriculture every five years.
    • “The Census looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures, and many other areas.”  USDA defines a “farm” as any operation with $1,000 or more of agricultural production.”
  •  

  •  There were 8,333 farms in SW MN in 2007, up 2.8% from 2002.
  • 61% of farms in SW MN (5,124) harvested corn in 2007;
    58% harvested soybeans.
  • 26% of farms in SW MN (2,203) had Cattle in inventory in 2007
    11% had hogs, 4% sheep.
  • An average farm in Minnesota was 332 acres in 2007.
  • Median Farm in Minnesota was 148 acres in 2007.
  • 10% of farms in SW MN were >1,000 acres in 2007.
  • Almost half of farms in SW MN reported sales over $100k in 2007.
  • 15% of farms in SW MN had >$500k sales in 2007.
  • Average farm in SW MN realized ~$280,000 for Production, ~$211,000 Expenses in 2007.
  • ¾ of all Americans use the Internet; 2/3 of farms in SW MN.

 

(Trying out loading a PowerPoint presentation into WordPress.)

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Bozeman Explosion

At about 8:12 AM MST yesterday, a large natural-gas explosion rocked historic downtown Bozeman, Montana.  Several buildings in the 200 Block of Main Street, across from First Security Bank, were destroyed and one woman is missing.  There were no other casualties.  From what I’ve gathered from Twitter (#bozexplod) and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, it’s taken 24 hours to isolate the gas leak and subdue the fires.

 I lived in Bozeman almost 5 years.  It’s an amazing, creative new west meets old west, Yellowstone Park and working cattle ranches and mountains and blue ribbon trout jumping into your creel should you be a sufficiently virtuous fly fisherman.

Couple points we can take away from this disaster:

  1. Do you have a personal and professional disaster recovery plan?  Where would your family meet if your home was destroyed?  What would your business or organization do if your office exploded, was hit by a flood, or a pipe froze and burst?  Visit  http://www.ready.gov/ for tips.
  2. Social media like Facebook and Twitter increasingly fills the real-time information gap in this sort of situation.  However, smart organizations can integrate these tools to reinforce their value.  The key, as always, is building your network because you never know who is going to know what you need to know when you need to know it.  You know?
  3. On a similar note, a really smart guy I once worked for used to say that Scope is as important as Scale.  A larger city might have more firefighters, more specialized equipment and nifty high-tech recovery tools.  In a smaller citylike Bozeman, though, everybody knows everybody else and they know who can help get the job done—there are numerous examples coming out of city workers sticking to the job into the night despite the cold and snow, along with construction workers, lumber yards, ordinary citizens and more.  No matter if you’re big or small, make Scale work when it can and Scope when Scale can’t.

It’s a good reminder to Prepare, Plan, and Stay Informed.

Be Prepared.

Market Value of Ag Production

SW MN Market Value of Production Per Farm 2007

Agriculture is naturally a risky business.  Americans have chosen to hedge some of that risk through federal farm programs to ensure a reliable supply of food and ag products.  If you can’t eat, the rest doesn’t much matter.

The President’s first budget released last week has received a bit of press for changes to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) programs previously agreed to as part of last year’s farm bill.  Specifically, BHO proposed to cut off direct payments to commodity growers with sales over $500,000, as well as other reductions in subsidies and promotions.  This could affect over 6,400 farms in Minnesota alone.

Now, I’m generally all in favor of cutting federal spending.  In this case, I’m not sure the proposal is any better than the system in place.

You might think, “Well, anybody pulling in half-a-million a year doesn’t need a handout” and I would be inclined to agree.  However, this is bad math.  That $500k is a gross figure, as I understand it.  Looking at the US Census of Agriculture for 2007, an average farm in Southwest Minnesota would have realized about $282,000 for the market value of the production of crops and livestock, and about $211,000 in production expenses.  That leaves about $70,000 net to support a family, plus typically cash income for off-farm work in many families if only for health insurance.  Not bad in a rural community if I’m doing my math right, and (with economies of scale) double that figure shouldn’t have any need for subsidies.

Unfortunately, life is more complicated than that.  Many farm operations are partnerships supporting multiple generations.  Many farms have hired help—young guys and gals in school or just starting out, or immigrants working the fields and herds.  So start divying that number into smaller and smaller chunks and see how far that goes?  Even so, that number is also a calculated average (that given my grades in statistics class I hesitate to even publish).  This sort of muddled mandate seems likely to push family operations apart to meet some bureaucrat’s unilateral limit rather than create the type of partnerships to be most competitive in a changing economy.

Lincoln County, Minnesota, is a small county by population and acreage, with more what and less higher-margin corn.  In 2007, the 784 farms in Lincoln County calculated out with the lowest margin between sales and market value of production, below a state-wide average ~$35,000.  Yet there were still 77 operations with over $500,000 in sales in the County that year.

Like much of life, some enterprises do well and others not so well.  Agricultural assistance is intended to insulate the profession of farming on the “not so well” years so we have food at the grocery.  Is the system perfect?  Oh heck, no.  Nickel-and-dime hacks won’t necessarily make it any better and the law of unintended consequenses virtually assures ill-thought changes will make things worse.

SW MN Farm Size Pt II

Source: US Census of Agriculture

There are over 8,000 farms in the nine counties of Region 8 in Southwest Minnesota.  Measured by acreage, the largest cohort of farms in the state is 50-179 acres, while the largest group in our region is 180-499 acres.

Measured by the market value of production, Southwest Minnesota has generally fewer of the very small farms—what the USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) terms Limited Resource or Lifestyle farms with low gross sales and an operater engaged in another primary occupation.  The ERS typology then splits farms where the operator is primarily engaged in farming into those with sales over or under $100,000 a year.  Almost half of farms in Southwest Minnesota reported sales over $100k in 2007.

This profile varies some across the region.  For example, Lincoln County farmers report lower gross sales; in fact, there were more farms with sales below $1,000 than above $100,000.  This is the norm statewide but unique in the region.  Lincoln County grows the most wheat and least corn and soybeans in the region.  Another factor may be that Lincoln County has a large percentage of population of retirement age which may affect returns.  By contrast, almost 25% of farms in Rock County had sales over $500,000 compared to 8% statewide.  Rock County relies most heavily on livestock production in the region. 

I’m sure other aspects come into play with our agricultural economy.  It will be interesting to see what the numbers have yet to say.

Rural Broadband At A Glance, 2009 Edition

Household Broadband Use By Income 2007

USDA today issued a short Bulletin looking at rural internet usage:

Three-quarters of U.S. residents used the Internet to access information, education, and services in 2007. Broadband Internet access is becoming essential for both businesses and households; many compare its evolution to other technologies now considered common necessities—such as cars, electricity, televisions, microwave ovens, and cell phones. Although rural residents enjoy widespread access to the Internet, they are less likely to have high-speed, or broadband, Internet access than their urban counterparts. Circumstantial evidence suggests that the difference in access may lie in the higher cost and limited availability of broadband Internet in rural areas. As a result, rural residents depend more on Internet use outside of the home, in places like the library, school, and work, where broadband Internet access is available.

This is a well-written little document that might be a good handout for local elected officials and economic development boards.  It presents detailed national information in a few easy charts without getting overly technical.  USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) has more resources on rural telecommunications also.

The bulletin is based on  FCC data, USDA Agricultural Resource Management Survey and and June Agricultural Survey, Pew Internet & American Life Project, and additional state-level data.

This report draws on the research of ERS’s Resource and Rural Economics Division. Data in this analysis are drawn from the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) Form 477 survey and the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey (CPS).

It does not directly reference the recently released US Census of Agriculture 2007 data for on-farm broadband use.  However, as I understand it, Census of Ag was used for the Ag Resource Management Survey so the numbers are in there.

Are you reading this at work?

The line between work-life and home-life, professional and personal, is in constant flux.  As organizations search for excellence, re-invent, re-organize, upgrade, and update, the one-time rules on engagement get a bit squishy.  Governing magazine—a freebie for bureaucrats like me—offered an insightful observation on “The Millennial in the Cubicle“, relevant to government, non-profit and for-profit enterprises:

According to a recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study, 70 percent of working Americans now use the Internet on the job. That means that increasingly both the public and the private sectors are having to figure out how to balance the rights and interests of employees and employers in an environment where opportunities to do too much electronic wandering are virtually limitless, and where lots of employees spend most of the day on computers and tapping away at cell phones and other communication devices for legitimate work purposes.

Are you reading this at work?  One reason I’m working on this blog is to look at applications of social media for my “real work” in local development.  Is this blog strictly “real work” then?  Well, not stricktly.  I may be trading time during the work day that I make up by coming in early and staying late or eating lunch at my desk like I am today.  “Real Work” still needs to get done, but the timeline isn’t banker’s hours.

Complaints about overly restrictive use policies and Web blocking ought to be a wake-up call, say many in public-sector information technology and personnel management. Witt’s generation — the “millennials,” who have grown up texting, Twittering and YouTubing, and often doing all of those things simultaneously — are going to push hard for governments to open up on-the-job technology so that they can work the way they’ve become used to. “We’re going to be seeing a new generation of employees who say, ‘What do you mean I can’t look at my Facebook page while I’m at work?'” says Craig Paull, head of IT for Kent County, Michigan.

Devil’s Advocate:  I got some good advice from a prof back in college.  When you’re working for the government, don’t do anything you wouldn’t want in the headlines of the local newspaper.  There was a big buzz for awhile on “running government like a business”.  I like the idea, but the problem is the stockholders are everybody that pays taxes.  The rules are a bit different on the public dime than in private business.  I understand that.

However… public, private and non-profit organizations are all in business.  They have (or should have) a mission, a vision, strategies and objectives if they want to succeed and provide a value in this world.  If you’re gonna do a job, do it right.

Fundamentally, technology has helped create a layer of employees who view work in a whole new way, according to Lee Rainie, director of the Pew project. “It’s clear that the boundary between work and play is not as bright and distinct as it is for their parents,” says Rainie. “Nobody has done a systematic study, but as the digital generation enters the workforce, they will have different expectations about the work environment and using technology, and different norms about what they owe their boss versus what they owe their friends.” 

Some of the conflicts are generational.  Baby Boomers tend to think about work and life, paid-work and volunteer-work, differently than my Gen X peers.  The Millenials coming after, who the heck knows what they’re thinking. 

Change is, of course, the only constant.  So you may as well embrace it.  Learn to love Social Media.  Adapt your work life to Twitter and Facebook.  Adapt your home life so your Blackberry habit isn’t quite so annoying to spouse and children.  Some people see these tools extending work into homelife.  I don’t know about you, but I don’t only have ideas between 8am and 4:30pm.  If I figure out a problem for a client at 8pm, I don’t want to wait until 8am to get down the details when I can access work remotely and take care of it then and there.  At the same time, I may be pulling up Facebook at 9am to check on my kids instead of jockeying for PC time at home come 9pm.  Tools are tools, for good or evil.

Get ‘er done, but with balance in all things.

A Scholar’s Work

Minnesota Farm

Martin Krieger is Professor of Planning at the University of Southern California’s School of Policy, Planning, and Development.  He blogs tips for doctoral students.  I once thought of being a doctoral student—then I got over it, they work too hard.  Prof. Krieger has a PhD in Physics, so that could make him a rocket scientist as well as a real doctor, I’m not that familiar with his work.  Just before Christmas he wrote:

Most very strong scholars live through their work. They are very productive, and their work reflects their strengths in a deep way. There are of course scholars who work very hard, but are not so strong even if they are productive. But these very strong scholars are in a different league.

I’ve been thinking alot about work-life balance for… oh, most of my life.  We know the Company Man is dead.  Nobody my age will work for IBM for 40 years.  We settled that 20 years ago, yet the 1980s are as far away for my kids as the 1950s were for me.

What is it going to mean to “live through your work” in 2010?  Does it mean the gosh-awful 80 hour work-weeks of doctoral students (and professors)?  Or the undergrad working two jobs just to scrape by?  Can it mean more?

Let’s go back back to the future. Look at 2010 thru the lens of 1910, when the majority of US population (54%) was still rural. Before the industrial revolution, the norm was life on a farm or in a small shop. You lived with your work—you got up, did the chores, had lunch with the family, rested on Sunday, got stuff done.  The farm was (and is) hard work, but it’s a life worth living.

It’s easy to work your life away; easy to live for your work.  To live through your work, though, that seems to me something more—to find expression for your life in what you do for a living.  To be strong in your chosen vocation is going to mean going the extra mile, but we can adapt schedules and communication tools to recreate the seamless farmyard where sometimes we’re balancing “real work” on Saturdays so we can picnic with the family Thursday afternoon.

Sounds like hard work, but work worth living.

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