By Charlyn Fargo
Farm Futures magazine recently ranked the top 10 places to farm based on profitability – Illinois didn’t make the list.
The top 12 states (in order) were: Alabama, Delaware, Arkansas, Georgia, North Dakota, California, Arizona, Florida, Washington. North Carolina, Minnesota and Iowa. Illinois followed at No. 22. By county, the top 10 (in order) include: Yuma County, Ariz, Lake County, Ohio, Monroe County, Ga, Macon County, Ga, Tattnall County, Ga, Union Parish, La, Franklin County, Fla, Collier County, Fla, Claiborne Parish, La, Bladen County, NC.
My friend, Bryce Knorr, wrote the article. He based his list of the top 500 counties in the country by using numbers gathered every five years from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Census of Agriculture. The rankings were based on profitability, financial efficiency and growth. He examined return on assets, asset turnover and profit margin and then calculated growth in income, sales and assets. He used data from the 2012, 2007 and 2002 Census.
Here’s what he learned: “To be sure, the Midwest has long been the cornerstone of food production in this country. But as our study points out, profits can be found from sea to shining sea. In fact, the most profitable places to farm in the U.S. rose to the top, often despite adversity. Drought, soaring input costs and political interference didn’t keep these growers from returns that would make even the high-fliers in Silicon Valley blush. Profit margins topping 35% and 15% to 20% return on assets make these farms look like the stuff of blue chip dreams,” said Knorr.
The top county in the country was Yuma, Ariz. Because of irrigation, it’s the winter vegetable capital of the world. Odds are the lettuce we eat in January comes from Yuma, says Knorr.
States with a strong livestock industry did well, he adds, and the top four – Alabama, Delaware, Arkansas and Georgia – are leading producers of poultry, which made the most of expensive grain. Cattle feedlots on the western Plains also stood out.
He explains why Illinois and other Midwestern states didn’t make the top 10 list – “likely the victims of their own success,” he said, meaning souring farmland values made strong financial returns harder to come by .Counties from Iowa and the Dakotas, which had a strong energy industry (either due to fracking or ethanol), did make the top 500 counties, Knorr said.
By the way, the first Illinois county to make the list was DuPage, at No. 209.
Knorr said one of the more interesting finds was Brown County, Wis., known for its beer and brats, now becoming a wine and cheese mecca , adding to its diversity and profitability.