What Is a Typical Farm in Craven County?

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In today’s society, many do not actually know a farmer or have ever visited a farm. As such, the image of agricultural production is based upon media portrayal. This brings to question, “What does a typical farming operation look like?”. As one that works directly with these farmers, it is troubling, even for me, to determine what an average or normal farming operation looks like. Here’s why.

The Us Agricultural Census provides some insight. Using rounded numbers from the 2017 Agricultural Census, Craven County has 81,000 acres of farmland with 62,000 acres of harvestable land and the rest of the farmland as forested area. There are about 80 farm tracts that associated with sales less than $2,500 annually and 73 with sales above $100,000 annually. The most common size of farmland falls between 50-180 acres is size. While these are interesting facts, they do not define the number of farmers or a typical farming operation. So, again, this begs the question, “What does a typical farming operation look like?”

According to this census, there are 391 men and women involved with farming. Approximately 93% of these farms are family farms and 11% of farmers sell directly to consumers. Approximately half of farm income within Craven Coubty is from field crop production and half from livestock/aquaculture. About 1% grower organically. This information helps us define a typically farming operation a bit better but there are caveats. First, often a family farm has brothers, cousins, uncles and others involved in the operation. Secondly, according to the USDA Census, one is considered a “farmer” if one shares expenses and risks with farming. This person may or may not be actively making daily decisions to manage a crop or livestock. Thus the high number of folks actually listed as a “farmer” is somewhat exaggerated. The actual number of farming operations in Craven County is much, much lower.

The typical family farm producing field crops in Craven County grows some combination of corn, soybean, wheat, cotton, peanut, tobacco or sweet potatoes. Size of operation ranges from 1000-6,000 acres with most about 2,700 acres is size. The average age of the farmer is about 60. (Most of the active members are 55 years or older. ) Very few are between 20-40 years of age. None are younger.

Equipment owned by these field crop producers varies according to the crop. As example, those with cotton will indeed have an cotton picker. Cotton pickers are only used to harvest cotton yet are valued over $1M. Similarly, those that harvest peanuts will have peanut equipment for harvest but this equipment is generally less than $100,000. Fortunately, growers of grain may harvest corn, soybean, and wheat with one machine. These combine units are valued at $800,000. The point of providing these details is twofold:  1) Again, there is no one way to describe all farmers. 2) Field crop production of any size generally requires an investment of $1M or more for each commodity produced due to the high cost of some particular piece of equipment. As such, the high cost of equipment, labor and inputs provide a minimum net return.

According to the US Agricultural Census in 2017,  average profit is about $90,000 annually for the farming operation. Not much for an operation with millions invested, especially if this must mee the needs of multiple family members. Since grain production (even with cotton added) is not likely to provide enough income for multiple family members, some other high value crop or livestock is usually produced. Crops considered are peanut, tobacco or sweet potatoes. Livestock within Craven generally is swine production but horses and cattle are increasing.

Commonly grown crops of higher value as well as swine production require contracts for production. Obtaining one is not an easy task. As such, tobacco is grown on about 2-3% of the farmland, or about 2,000 acres annually. Peanut are similar but production may be grown on as much as 8% of the total farmland. Sweet potato production occurs on less than 1% of total farmland. In contrast, there are about 18 swine producing facilities within the county. These vary Is size and type of production. On average, adding one of these crops or swine production can add an additional $30,000-$50,000 profit  to the family farm depending upon the size of operation.

Turf nursery, blueberries, catfish, white bass, and small ruminant production is included as farming within the county but with fewer number of producers. These specialty production ventures vary in size to less than an acre to several hundred acres. The diversity of farms continues to expand. In fact, the fastest growing segment of agriculture within Craven are farms with less than 20 acres of production.

Many of these small-scale producers are employed in professional service jobs, military, government or other employment. However, they produce 0.25-5.0 acres of some other crop sold directly to consumers, local grocery stores or New Bern Farmers’ Market. Collards, pumpkins, various vegetables, melons, and a limited number of fruits (usually berries) are produced an sold. Such seasonal produce or specialty markets accounts for roughly 2-3% annual farm sales within Craven or about $600,000-2,000,000 annually.

Last but not least, one must be aware that there are always……. always, always exceptions. As example, Airbnb has afforded individuals the ability to remodel older farm homes or barns to include local production of food as a marketing tool. Expansion of internet and cell signals now affords small goat producers to ability to create value-added cheese or milk product and sell directly to consumer across the state. These are simply two examples of how the definition of agricultural production is changing within Craven. Perhaps one day, these smaller farms, rather than larger-scale producers will be the “average” farming operation. Only time will tell.