New United States Department of Agriculture data shows a snapshot of changing agriculture in Lebanon County—fewer farms and less acreage per farm, but with profitable farms having slightly better bottom lines despite fewer government payouts countywide.

According to USDA census data, between 2012 and 2017, the number of farms in Lebanon County dropped by 70, or 6%, with the total acreage dropping by nearly 14,000 acres over that period, or 11%. About 80 additional farms transitioned out of harvested cropland status but remained in the count through other types of agriculture.

This change reflects statewide trends, with Pennsylvania losing 6,152 farms over that period.

The average net cash income per farm rose from $79,749 in 2012 to $95,920 in 2017. The amount of farms receiving government payouts dropped from 324 in 2012 to 157 in 2017. The average government payout dropped slightly from approximately $6,900 to $6,500.

Reduced expenses, an increase in livestock and poultry operations, and decreased competition have helped drive the increase in net income for local farmers.

Here is a table showing how the number of farms has changed at different levels of sales.

Sales Range20122017
Less than $2,500263303 (+40)
$2,500 to $4,9998180 (-1)
$5,000 to $9,9999492 (-2)
$10,000 to $24,99912298 (-24)
$25,000 to $49,9999670 (-26)
$50,000 to $99,99910569 (-36)
$100,00 or more458437 (-21)

607 farms reported net gains in 2017 compared to 676 in 2012. The number of farms reporting net losses remained relatively stable, at 542 in 2017 and 543 in 2012.

Ten farms entered broiler or other meat-type chicken production, with 83 farms listed on the 2017 census. Broiler production jumped five million over this period, with nearly 27 million broilers sold by Lebanon County farms in 2017, or about 15% of Pennsylvania’s overall broiler production for that year. Statewide broiler production has grown from 167 million in 2012 to 184 million in 2017, with Lebanon County broiler growth accounting for a whopping 30% of that 17 million increase.

Reporting by Lancaster Farming pinpoints dairy industry uncertainty as the force driving farmers to exit agriculture. This dairy flight can in fact be seen across the country. But in Lebanon County, it appears that existing dairy farmers are absorbing reductions elsewhere in the region. Although the number of farms with milk cows has fallen from 285 farms in 2012 to 263 farms in 2017, over that period the county gained about 940 milk cows as well as 700 beef cows. In contrast, Lancaster County lost more than 4,000 dairy cows and 2,500 beef cows.

Read about 97 Milk, a campaign started by a local dairy farmer to revive public interest in whole milk.

The average sales per Lebanon County farm rose to approximately $305,000 in 2017 from approximately $286,000 in 2012. For comparision, the statewide average sales per farm was about $146,00 in 2017 and $125,000 in 2012.

Find the full census report at the USDA’s website.


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