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WV Agriculture Production Up

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West Virginia lost nearly 2,200 farms from 2007 to 2012, according to data released recently the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

But while the number of farms fell by about 9 percent, the value of products those farms sold increased by about $217.5 million, or 37 percent.

The information was part of the Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years.

The total value of farm products sold in 2012 was about $809.175 million. Of that, about $670.1 million was livestock, poultry and other animal products, and about $139 million was from crops, including nursery and greenhouse crops.

The census counted 21,489 farms in 2012, down from 23,618 five years earlier.

By far most farms — 20,093 — brought in less than $50,000. Only 182 had sales of $1 million or more.

Of the 21,489 farm operators, 18,784 were male, 122 were Hispanic, 29 were black, 44 were American Indian or Alaska Native, 20 were Asian, 2 were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander, 21,340 were white and 54 were of more than one race.

The average age of farm operators was 59.7. Only 894 farm operators were age 34 or younger.

The USDA plans to release more detailed state-level data along with county-level data this spring.

"I'm very pleased to see West Virginia's total agricultural value going up, but I caution that it's not necessarily representative of greater production or even a greater profit margin for our farmers," said Walt Helmick, West Virginia commissioner of agriculture, said in a statement released by his office.

"That figure by itself doesn't factor in the rising costs of feed, fuel and other inputs, nor does it account for the fact that we've actually lost two percent of our farmland since the last Census.

Helmick said West Virginians are consuming more than seven times more food than the $800 million currently being produced in the state.

"There is an enormous opportunity for existing and prospective professional farmers to get in on the ground floor of the local food movement in West Virginia," Helmick said. "There are literally billions of dollars that are leaving our state each year to buy food that we could be producing right here."