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Agricultural Trends in Orange County

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Karen McAdams, Agricultural Extension Agent
NC Cooperative Extension Service - Orange County
April 17, 2007

The Past Ten Years:

  • Steady, continual decline in number of dairy producers (20 in 1997, 12 today).  Attributable to many factors, including declining profit margins, value of land for development, lack of interest on part of succeeding generations, and low wholesale milk prices to farmers.
  • Increase in Nursery and Greenhouse production. Several, full time, large growers. Many small specialty nurseries.
  • Large increase in the number of small horse farms (10-20 acres), horse boarding farms, and horse owners, mostly through subdividing larger farms.
  • Increase in the number of farmers selling meat directly to consumers.  Twenty small scale producers now sell a variety of local pastured poultry and eggs, pastured pork, grass fed beef, grass fed lamb, and grain fed beef.
  • Increase in the number of small vegetable growers selling locally through farmers markets and local retail outlets and restaurants.  Increase in number of community supported agriculture (CSA's) vegetable shares.
  • Tobacco production has drastically decreased due to the tobacco buyout and the subsequent drop in prices.  Many small tobacco producers are no longer growing tobacco.  Some older tobacco producers have retired and many younger ones are diversifying and adding other agricultural enterprises. (Five new broiler-breeder poultry houses, turf grass production).
  • Poultry production has greatly increased in the past ten years, with seven tobacco farmers building broiler breeder houses and raising hatching eggs in the northwest corner of the county.
  • Beef cattle and other livestock operations numbers have remained fairly stable with only a slight decrease in the numbers of beef operations and cattle. Some dairy farms have converted to beef cattle.
  • Continual increase in the number of landscape contractors and landscape maintenance operators associated with increasing population.
  • Pressures associated with residential growth and accompanying increases in traffic and land values, along with growth in tax rates on equipment and personal property have made it harder to farm.

The Next Several Years:

  • Continued decline in the number of dairy farms. Factors include low milk prices and loss of available farm land to development.
  • Continued slow growth in the nursery, greenhouse, ornamental, and landscape sectors due to increasing population of the region.
  • Number of horse farms will stay steady or slowly increase with an increasing urban population.
  • Increase in the number of small fruit and vegetable growers, particularly organic/sustainable growers. There will be more attempts by traditional agriculture producers to diversify into this area.
  • Tobacco production will remain important on some farms.
  • There will be a slow decline in the number of beef cattle producers due to retirement and increasing land values.
  • Timber harvesting and forestry will continue to be a viable alternative source of income.
  • Increase in hay production for horses by former dairy and tobacco producers.
  • The amount of farmland in production will continue to decline slowly, primarily being developed versus being left fallow.
  • Environmental regulation will continue to be a factor for farmers remaining in business. Environmental concerns will probably result in farms needing to further monitor and limit the amount of fertilizers and pesticides used to produce crops. This may not negatively affect farm production and income; however, it will add to the pressures associated with trying to remain a viable agricultural producer in a rapidly changing area. 

Comparison of Gross Farm Value of Agricultural Commodities
Produced in Orange County in 1986 and 1996

Milk and Dairy Cattle $11,163,400 $9,124,112 $5,785,000
Tobacco-Flue-Cured $4,334,034 $7,654,629 $1,395,180
Corn $3,500 $78,200 $241,500
Soybeans $421,950 $201,000 $572,795
Small Grains $69,195 $56,200 $25,915
Potatoes     $32,700
Fruits and Vegetables $51,400 $266,248 $1,209,382
Greenhouse & Nursery $1,125,000 $5,310,000 $11,080,000
Hay & other crops $126,585 $329,000 $350,000
Farm Forestry $539,860 $2,091,450 $5,474,000
Hogs $1,348,751 $640,800 $195,600
Cattle $1,965,000 $2,293,950 $6,671,710
Milk $11,163,400 $9,124,112 $5,785,000
Poultry & Eggs $2,501,800 $5,699,248 $5,444,000
Horses $546,700 $1,041,900 $2,123,900
Other $336,463 $80,901 $217,640
Miscellaneous     $5,300
TOTAL GROSS INCOME $24,534,491 $34,867,638 $46,609,622