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Fewer Northwest Farms, But They’re Bigger And More Valuable

The number of farms in the Northwest is dropping, according to newly-released federal farm data.

But there's more to the story. The average size and value of Northwest farms are going up.

The numbers are part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's agricultural census, a survey conducted every five years on everything from total bushels of wheat produced to how much gasoline farms purchased.

And it shows Washington, Oregon and Idaho all lost farms between 2007 and 2012. But the average farm size and market value went up in all three states.

And here's another notable change: the number of farms making $500,000 or more is growing. 

“It goes to the fact that what we see in agriculture is get specialized, get big, or get out," said Garth Taylor, an agriculture economist at the University of Idaho.

Taylor says many of Idaho's small dairy farms have stopped operating or have been bought up. Yet while the number of individual dairy farms has dropped, Idaho now has more than half a million milk cows — a doubling of the cow population since 1997.

Still, when you count farm by farm, the vast majority in the Northwest are small, family-owned operations. In Washington, 74 percent of farms make less than $25,000 a year.

Inland Northwest Correspondent Jessica Robinson reports from the Northwest News Network's bureau in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. From the politics of wolves to mining regulation to small town gay rights movements, Jessica covers the economic, demographic and environmental trends that are shaping places east of the Cascades.