Report: Texas farming industry grows in spite of devastating drought

Cattle gaze out from a pen in a feedlot near Lubbock, Texas, on Dec. 16, 2013. Some Texas cattle producers are beginning a lengthy climb after a brutal and dispiriting stretch of years of drought. Hundreds of thousands of head in the nation's leading cattle producing state were liquidated since 2011, the state’s most intense one-year drought on record. (AP Photo/Betsy Blaney)

LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — While the number of farms in Texas rose over a five-year span, the state lost about 200,000 acres of farmland, according to a new federal report released Thursday.

Texas leads the nation with 248,810 farms, up from 247,437 operations in 2007, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture report said. Farmland covers about 130.2 million acres in Texas, a negligible drop from about 130.4 million acres in 2007.

Though still in the throes of a multiyear drought during which ranchers sold millions of heads of cattle, Texas also led the U.S. in livestock sales with $18 billion. It was also in the top 10 in total agriculture sales — third with $25.4 billion — and in crop sales, $7.4 billion, good for eighth place.

Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples, a Republican who’s running for lieutenant governor, said the report is proof Texas economy continues to be strong.

“Texas continues to lead the nation in farm and ranch acreage and even during times of extreme drought, the total market value of Texas agriculture grew by 25 percent from the previous census five years ago,” he said.

The market value of all agriculture products sold in Texas rose by 21 percent over the five-year period.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture report provides national and state-based estimates on the number of farms, how many acres are farmed, the number of farmers and their average age and other statistics. The report, issued every five years, is used in evaluating and implementing agriculture policies and programs.

According to the census, a third of farmers across the U.S. were older than 65 in 2012. In Texas, the average age is 60.1 years, up from 58.9 years in 2007. A younger generation of Texan farmers helped with the age statistic, with 9,301 people ages 24 to 34 farming or ranching in 2012 compared to 9,246 in 2007.

More women are taking to the land in Texas, too, with 38,451 farming in 2012, a jump of 3,440. Male farmers declined by 2,067.

Most Texas farms are small, with 88 percent having sales of less than $50,000 in 2012. The average size of farms or ranches across the state in 2012 was 523 acres, down slightly from 527 acres in 2007.

The census defines a farm as any agricultural operation that had $1,000 in sales in the census year or had the potential to have $1,000 in sales in the census year.

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