The Census of Agriculture is conducted every five years by the USDA Agricultural Statistics Service with the most recent one being conducted in 2017. Nebraska has both strong crop and livestock sectors and it’s interesting to monitor the relative importance of the sectors across regions of the state using census data.

Census data on the market value of crops and livestock can be compared over time to discern if any long-term trends emerge. For census purposes crop sales include grains, oilseeds, dry beans, vegetables, potatoes, hay and other crops. Livestock sales consists of cattle, hogs, milk, poultry, and eggs.

Figure 2 shows the changes in counties’ crop share of total agricultural products sold between 1997 and 2017. Counties colored dark blue are ones where the crop share was greater in 2017 compared to 1997. In counties colored light blue, the crop share was less in 2017. Almost two-thirds of Nebraska counties saw an increase in the share of sales attributable to crops. Particularly interesting is the increases in crop share seen in the traditionally beef-dominated counties in the Sandhills. More counties (54) remained livestock-dominant in 2017 where livestock sales account for more than 50 percent of total sales. (Figure 3). But, the number in 2017 was less compared to 1997 when 61 counties were livestock-dominant.. 

There may be a couple reasons why crop sales relative to livestock sales increased in counties. First, growth in crop production might have outpaced growth in livestock production. Second, the relative spread between crop and livestock prices might have narrowed. Crop prices might have been higher relative to livestock prices in 2017 compared to what they were in 1997. In either case, Nebraska counties are increasingly reliant on the crop sector for revenue today than in the past. More research is needed to better understand the underlying causes for the trend. If anything, the trend would suggest the efforts to increase livestock production in the state are warranted.

Figure 2. Change in Crop Share of Agricultural Products Sold, 2017 vs. 1997

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Source: NEFB calculations based on USDA NASS Census of Agriculture data

Figure 3. Livestock-Dominant Counties in 2017 (light blue)

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Source: NEFB calculations based on USDA NASS Census of Agriculture data