Documenting the Success of Oregon Farm-Direct Sales

While the growth of the local food movement in Oregon is quite evident, documenting these accomplishments with hard numbers is difficult. For example, the number of farmers’ markets in the state have grown from 38 in 1997 to more than 100 in 2009, but since few markets collect sales data, we can’t put a dollar value on this growth. Increasingly, restaurants and schools buy their ingredients directly from Oregon farmers but these transactions are not tracked and summed.

The recent publication of the 2007 USDA Census of Agriculture provides a unique opportunity to quantify the progress of local sales in Oregon and to compare them to other states. The census is conducted every five years and so provides relatively “fresh” data. The census asked, “During 2007, did you produce, raise, or grow any crops, livestock, poultry, or agricultural products that were sold directly to individual consumers for human consumption? Include sales from roadside stands, farmers markets, pick your own, door to door, etc. Exclude craft items and processed products such as jellies, sausages, and hams.” The value of these sales was $56 million. Although the census specifically excludes some items of interest -- non-food sales such as flowers and starts, farm processed products such as jams or cheese, and semi-direct sales such as sales to restaurants,-- it is still the most solid data available.

It is useful to begin by examining the overall importance of farm-direct sales in Oregon. If farm-direct sales were a commodity, the $56 million in farm-direct sales reported in the 2007 Census of Agriculture would place it just above blueberries and wine grapes as the 17th highest sales commodity in the state. The 2002 Census reported farm-direct sales of $21 million so the sector grew by an inflation-adjusted 144% over this five year period. This far exceeded the 19% inflation-adjusted growth of overall agricultural sales for the state in that period.

Farm-direct Sales Data: How Does Oregon Compare?

At the national level, farm direct sales were $1.2 billion in 2007 up from $800 million in 2002. Adjusting for inflation, national farm-direct sales rose by 30% during that period. As calculated above, the comparable figure for Oregon sales growth was 144%, or more than four times the national growth rate. Only one other state, Oklahoma, had a faster growth rate. That state has a much smaller farm-direct sector with sales that are less than 20% of Oregon’s. In 2007 Oregon ranked fifth in the country in total farm-direct sales behind only California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Michigan.

Another useful way of comparing farm-direct sales data is to consider the level of farm-direct sales per consumer. Here are some figures that demonstrate that Oregon consumers were “ahead of the pack” when it came to farm-direct purchases:

  • The 2007 national average for farm direct sales was $4 per consumer.
  • The West Coast states of California ($4.48) and Washington ($6.75) were both above the national average
  • Oregon farm-direct sales of $15 per consumer were far above both the national average and the level of neighboring states.
  • Oregon was #2 nationally behind only Vermont in sales per consumer

The data on the number of farms that sell direct to consumers tell a similar story. With 6274 farms selling directly, Oregon, ranks sixth in the country behind the much more populous California, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan. In the number of farm-direct farms per consumer, Oregon ranks second behind only Vermont. The Oregon figure of 1.68 farm-direct farms per 1000 consumers is nearly four time the national average, twice the level in Washington and more than eight times the California level.

Which Farms Sell Direct?

From the Census of Agriculture, we know that 76% of the Oregon farms that sell direct are smaller than 49 acres. Nearly 1500 Oregon farms larger than 49 acres also had direct sales. In fact, 203 farms larger than 500 acres had direct sales. Sorting farms by their total sales provides a similar picture as 63% of the farms with direct sales have total agricultural sales of less than $5000. Direct sales were not limited to farms with low sales as 337 Oregon farms with per-farm sales exceeding $100,000 had some direct sales. These data demonstrate the diversity of farms that are participating in this sector.

Forty-two percent of direct sellers listed farming as their primary occupation and 58% listed farming as a secondary occupation. These figures are quite similar to the overall farm population in the state which was 46% with farming as a primary occupation and 54% with farming as a secondary occupation.

Summary

Overall the survey results demonstrate two things -- the expanding role of farm-direct within Oregon agriculture and the impressive regional and national performance of Oregon direct marketing farmers and consumers as compared to other states. This brief overview also illustrates the importance of collecting and analyzing data as a means of documenting accomplishments.

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