Every five years, farmers are asked to complete a lengthy USDA Census of Agriculture form, and the most recent data (2012) is spurring new reports of a strong agricultural future for Richmond County.Last week, Farm Progress reported on a new Farm Futures study, ranking 3,000 counties in the country calculating countywide financial performance including return on assets, profit margin, asset turnover and average net farm income. Called the “Best Places to Farm,” Richmond County ranked 81st out of 3,000 counties! A comparison of the previous census (2007) with the “new” 2012 data reveals that Richmond’s farms are holding steady in number and increasing in size with 277 farms utilizing 47,473 acres. This represents an overall increase during that five-year period of 6,669 acres and the average farm size increased by 25 additional acres to 172. Farms of 10–49 acres in size increased the most with an additional 16 added during that time. Four very large farms of more than 1,000 acres were also new on the 2012 census.Total cropland increased by 955 acres, woodlands increased by 1,325 acres and land in farmsteads/buildings/livestock facilities increased by 5,391 acres.The only notable decreases occurred in pastureland, which decreased by 3,580 acres and could mean that those fields were converted to other agricultural uses. Acres protected by crop insurance doubled to 11,087 on 16 farms.As land value increased, so did the estimated market value of land and buildings on Richmond County farms. The value was estimated at $195.9 million, an increase of $39 million from 2007. On this land in 2012, 10,900 tons of hay, 150,000 bushels of soybeans and 93,000 bushels of wheat were produced. The value of greenhouse and nursery crops was reported to be $506,000 and vegetables/fruits/nuts/berries was $3,851,000 ranking us 30th in the state for those crops. Richmond County continues to rank No. 13 in the state overall in livestock and poultry production with 34 million broilers (No. 6), 2,700 cattle and 45,000 hogs and pigs (27th).Overall, Richmond County ranks 24th in North Carolina in farm cash receipts, largely due to our poultry, hogs, crops, fruit and vegetable production. From 2011 to 2012, total farm cash receipts increased by $9.7 million to $144 million. Those are huge numbers for our county! The news is also good for landowners who are managing land for timber production. With the recent announcement of the Enviva wood pellet manufacturing plant moving to the county, not only will new jobs be created, this new market opportunity will create increased competition for our timber and wood resources. Brad Allen, District 3 service forester, North Carolina Forest Service, predicts that the addition of the pellet plant may lead to adjustments in years-to-harvest and tree spacing, potentially bringing more profit to local timber producers. A review of the 2012 Forestry Industry Economic Impact Report indicates that Richmond County timber sales income from forest stumpage was $8.9 million with delivered forest products providing $15.2 million. The report lists 27,521 acres of public and 219,156 acres of private timberland in Richmond County.The total economic impact of the forest industry was $236.1 million, including $40.7 million in labor income with 739 people employed. Statewide there are 123,000 people employed in the forest industry.This is a good time to consider farming and forestry as an occupation in Richmond County! If you are interested in learning more about farming, finding resources or making your farm more profitable, contact the extension office for assistance at 910-997-8255 or firstname.lastname@example.org.Previous article printed in the September 16, 2014 copy of the Richmond County Daily Journal. Susan A. Kelly is Director of the North Carolina Cooperative Extension’s Richmond County office.