After a dismal 2009, the bottom line for Oregon farmers and ranchers last year showed modest improvement. It will take a much larger gain before the state's net farm income is restored to its lofty pre-recession numbers.
"Overall, agriculture did a little better in 2010," says Brent Searle, analyst with the Oregon Department of Agriculture. "Oregon net farm income is up about 8%. But it's a very slow dig out of a precipitous fall in 2009."
A newly released economic snapshot of Oregon agriculture shows net farm income at just under $458 million. That's an improvement from the $422 million recorded in the previous year, which saw a 41% drop from 2008.
The latest numbers begin to reverse the downward slide of net farm income in Oregon that started following 2004's record high of $1.3 billion.
"It's good to see things turn around," Searle says, "but to put it in perspective, net farm income in Oregon is only about a third of what it was at its highest point just seven years ago."
Net farm income is the amount retained by agricultural producers after paying all business-related expenses. It is considered an important indicator of the agricultural economy's overall health. Some consider it to be the "farmer's paycheck."
Net ag income in Oregon bottomed out in 1983 at $283 million, and then peaked in 1992 at $681 million. Times got hard again in 2000, when the level went to $407 million, and 2001 at $433 million.
But that number doubled by 2003, and for the first time posted a level above a billion dollars for he Oregon production sector. By 2007, net farm income began to drop once again as farm expenses rose to take a bigger bite out of gross production returns.
The slight improvement for 2010 was attributed to better prices for some commodities, while overall expenses fell nominally. The overall value of Oregon production was put at $2.7 billion in 2010, down 5% from the previous year.