Northwest Oregon Agriculture in 2017

by Erik Knoder

December 2, 2019

Farming can be a challenging business and farm income statistics for 2017 bear that out for Northwest Oregon (Benton, Clatsop, Columbia, Lincoln, and Tillamook counties). The market value of agricultural products from Northwest Oregon was nearly $22 million less in 2017 than it was in 2012. Tillamook County was the only county that produced more value (+$8.1 million) in 2017 than 2012. Benton County had the largest drop in value (-$26.7 million) due to decreases in both crops and animal production values.

Oregon produced a little more than $5 billion of agricultural output in 2017. Of this, about $3.3 billion is from crops and about $1.7 billion is from animal products. Although Oregon considers commercial fishing to be an agricultural activity, it is not included in these federal Census of Agriculture numbers, but aquaculture is included. Northwest Oregon accounts for about 5.1 percent of Oregon’s output by value.

Tillamook County leads the region in value of sales because of its large dairy industry. Tillamook County had more than 44,000 cows and calves in 2017 – pretty good for a county of 26,175 people. Tillamook County also has an important aquaculture industry with farmed oysters. The county generated $125.3 million in agricultural output.

Benton County’s agriculture generated $76.5 million and it had the second-largest output in the region. Crop sales generated $62.2 million of the county’s output. The Census of Agriculture doesn’t provide a more detailed breakout of crops by value, but Benton County is a large grass seed producer. Growers harvested more than 55.5 million pounds of grass seed in 2017.

Columbia County’s agriculture industry was the third-largest in the region at $38.5 million in 2017. The county has a significant nursery industry, for which output is confidential, and it produces beef cattle. Columbia County has a large portion of its agricultural sales in categories that are not disclosed.

Clatsop County also has a dairy industry, but it is about one-twentieth the size of Tillamook County’s. Clatsop County also produces specialty crops for the holiday season and beef cattle. The county had $9.7 million in agricultural output in 2017.

Lincoln County has the smallest agricultural footprint in Northwest Oregon. It generated just $5.2 million in output. Aquaculture was the largest single part of the industry, accounting for nearly $2 million. The county is home to oyster farming on Yaquina Bay. The county also produced about $1.5 million of cattle.

None of the Northwest Oregon counties was in the top 10 of all Oregon counties by farm sales. In fact, Lincoln and Clatsop were ranked last and second-to-last in the state for agricultural sales. Tillamook County had the highest rank at number 13 in the state. Marion County topped the statewide list with more than $701 million in sales.
Because much agricultural employment is not required to be reported to the Oregon Employment Department, it must be estimated from other sources. Estimated annual average agricultural employment in 2018 was 990 jobs in Benton County, 710 in Tillamook County, 490 in Columbia County, 240 in Lincoln County, and 220 jobs in Clatsop County. Interestingly, November was the peak month of employment in the region with 3,220 jobs. July was the peak month for Oregon as a whole, but Northwest Oregon is more influenced by harvests for Christmas trees and other holiday products.

In addition to direct sales, farms also bring money into the region via a variety of federal programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, disaster payments, marketing fees, and commodity price supports. Oregon received about $92.4 million in government payments in 2017. Benton County led the Northwest region with about $1.1 million in subsidies in 2017. Lincoln County got $239,000, Columbia County received about $135,000, Tillamook County claimed $120,000, and Clatsop County got only $11,000 in government payments.

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