Agriculture helps stablize Umatilla County

Wheat and other grains brought in about $90.9 million in Umatilla County last year.

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Although they still took a hit in the pocketbook, Umatilla County farmers and ranchers escaped the economic battering the rest of the state's agriculture producers suffered in 2009.

According to figures compiled by Oregon State University, Umatilla County stayed in second place in the state's Top 10 list for farm and ranch sales with more than $369 million. It also recorded the smallest decrease, about 2.7 percent, in agriculture sales.

Wheat and other grains were Umatilla County's top-earning commodity last year, accounting for about $90.9 million, according to the OSU study. Field crops were second with about $60 million in sales, cattle and calves were third with about $52.2 million and tree fruits and nuts were fourth with about $41.6 million.

Marion County remained the runaway leader in agricultural sales with $493 million. But that figure was tempered by the fact it was a 15 percent decrease from the previous year.

"This is unusual," said Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba. "Typically, we'll have one or two agricultural sectors struggling in an economic downturn. But this time, most of our top ag sectors are down. Usually, we'll see some counties cope better than others. But across the board ... agricultural sales are down."

Oregon's total agricultural sales for 2009 decreased 14.8 percent from $4.8 billion to about $4.1 billion. Overall 23 counties recorded double digit decreases this past year, researchers said.

The state's number one agricultural commodity, greenhouse and nursery products, dramatically dropped in value as the nation's housing and construction industry stalled and there were fewer buyers for landscape materials, Bruce Pokarney, ODA spokesman said in a release. Other top commodities had similar difficulties.

"Hay prices were down in 2009 which affected Klamath County in particular. An oversupply of grass seed combined with less demand to also impact Willamette Valley growers. It was a terrible year for small fruits and berries, another key sector of agriculture west of the Cascades. Wheat prices also dropped, but Umatilla and Morrow counties actually benefitted from a good year for potatoes," he said.

Andy Porter can be reached at andyporter@wwub.com or 526-8318.

Top 10

The top 10 Oregon counties for 2009 gross farm and ranch sales (2008 totals in parentheses):

  1. Marion County -- $493 million ($581 million).
  2. Umatilla County -- $369 million ($380 million).
  3. Morrow County -- $345 million ($371 million).
  4. Clackamas County -- $302 million ($342 million).
  5. Klamath County -- $241 million ($301 million).
  6. Washington County -- $238 million ($173 million).
  7. Linn County -- $237 million ($292 million).
  8. Malheur County -- $227 million ($286 million).
  9. Yamhill County -- $222 million ($268 million).
  10. Polk County -- $162 million ($173 million).

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