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It's not chicken feed.

Benton and Washington Counties Reap $200 Million From Non-Poultry Products

POULTRY MAY BE KING of agribusiness in northwest Arkansas, but other market segments are producing millions of dollars for area farms.

The value of beef cattle and pork brought to market in Washington and Benton counties alone tipped the scales at more than $171 million during 1992.

And isn't it appropriate that in Razorback Country hogs accounted for a bigger chunk of the sales than beef on the hoof?

The value of hogs and pigs brought to market in Benton County during 1992 was $55 million. That figure stood at $40 million for Washington County.

The Benton County swine herd accounted for 17 percent of the state inventory, the No. 1 county total in the state. At 12.3 percent, Washington County ranked No. 3 behind Pope County. And Tyson Foods Inc. is the prime mover of this commodity.

Pork production notwithstanding, the profile of the average farm operation in the area includes two chicken houses and 30 head of beef cattle. One member of the family typically works in town to provide a steady source of income.

A city job also allows a farm family to obtain affordable health insurance coverage through group rates. It also bypasses the exorbitant premium structure for an individual business, especially an agribusiness.

According to 1992 state estimates, beef cattle generated $39 million for Washington County ranchers. That figure was followed closely in Benton County, where beef cattle produced $37 million for the year.
Non-Poultry Agriculture Stats

 Washington Benton Arkansas
 County County

Total Acreage 608,518 539,820 33,330,038

Total Farm Land 362,670 302,659 14,355,611

Avg. Farm Size 127 124 298

Cropland Harvested 68,934 69,434 6,477,365

Number of Farms 2,853 2,441 48,242

Cattle & Calves 116,000 108,000 1,710,000

Milch Cows 8,500 7,000 66,000

Hogs & Pigs 100,000 130,000 810,000

Source: Arkansas Agricultural Statistics, 1992.

Washington and Benton counties rank No. 1 and No. 2 in Arkansas and are home to respective 6.7 percent and 6.3 percent shares of the state herd, which numbers 1.7 million head.

The counties also rank 1-2 in terms of dairy cows. The herds produced milk with an estimated 1992 value of $13.6 million in Washington County and $12.3 million in Benton County.

Hay is the highest acreage crop in the two-county area. This year Benton County fields produced 200,000 tons of hay, valued at $10 million.

Washington County is slightly higher in overall hay production and value. Although farmers produce mostly for their own use, hay offsets feed costs in the winter months.

"The operators who do the best with their forage production -- pasture and hay -- will have the best bottom line, whether it's beef or dairy cattle," says Robert Seay, Benton County extension agent.

Fruit of the Land

Grapes and blueberries are two crops that yield an estimated $2.75 million for Benton and Washington county farmers.

Figures tallied by the Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service place the statewide production at 1,211 acres for grapes and 611 acres for blueberries.

That differs significantly to estimates provided by Dr. Jim Moore, horticulture professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville.

"The blueberry industry started here, and there are about 1,250 acres across the state," Moore says. "About 700 of those acres are in Washington and Benton counties."

The value of the area's 1992 blueberry crop is $2 million, according to Moore's conservative estimates.

Moore says that about 600 acres are devoted to vineyards in Benton and Washington counties alone. He places the estimated value of grape production in the two-county area at $750,000.

"This is the major area of the state for grapes and has been historically so," Moore says. "Up here the uses are primarily juice and jelly as opposed to wine in the Altus |Franklin County~ area."

More than $500,000 in blueberry sales are represented by Washington and Benton county farmers in the Arkansas Blueberry Growers Association.

"If your location is good, a pick-your-own operation is very lucrative," says Dian Sarratt, executive secretary of the Lowell-based group. "If you're out in the sticks, it pays to market your produce elsewhere."

In addition to juice, jam and fresh markets, the association is looking at sauces and syrups as a value-added product.

Ozark Valley Products in Springdale, which employs 35 full-time workers, purchased the old National Grape Co-op Association plant in September 1992 and began production in January.

This year the plant processed 1,500 tons of Concord grapes valued at $500,000 from area growers and 200-300 tons of apples worth more than $50,000.

The apples and 60 tons of blueberries valued at $50,000 were experimental runs. The juice was used for blends with grapes marketed under the Ozark Valley label.

"We're a new regional product, and there's significant difficulty breaking into the market," says Mike Strickland, president of Ozark Valley Products.

The juices, which include unmixed apple, are sold through the Springdale-based Harp's grocery chain, Affiliated Foods Southwest Inc. in Little Rock, some Wal-Mart stores and several smaller outlets.

The former Welch's grape plant also does contract work for other growers, like cranberries trucked in from Wisconsin farms. Ozark Valley hopes to truck more of its own product and not go the way of the area's declining, though once prosperous, apple orchard.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:economic impact of swine and cattle industries in Benton and Washington counties, Arkansas
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Oct 25, 1993
Previous Article:'You ain't seen nothin' yet.' (economic growth in Northwest Arkansas)
Next Article:'Phenomenal' growth highlights NW real estate.

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