Graying of farm region hurts totals
The estimated loss of 475 residents in Clay County since the 2000 census would be comparable to the city of Royal disappearing, according to a population estimate released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau.
The agency releases annual updates as it tracks population trends until the next official census count in 2010.
Buena Vista County remains easily the most populated in the region, with an estimated 20,151 people, down 258 or 1.3 percent since the 2000 Census. That is easily the smallest decline in the region.
Dickinson County - the Iowa Great Lakes area - continues to be a growth exception. It is on pace to pass Clay County in population when the next totals are taken, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It would be the first time since numbers were first gathered in 1850 that Clay County's northern neighbor would have more residents. In 2000, Clay County had 17,372 residents compared to 16,424 for in Dickinson County.
While Clay County (the Spencer area) lost 2.7 percent of its population from April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2005, according to last week's estimates, Dickinson County added 263 residents for 1.6 percent growth.
That leaves Dickinson County, with a population of 16,687, just 210 residents behind Clay County at 16,897.
The north-and-south block of Buena Vista, Clay and Dickinson counties maintained relatively stable population bases, compared to neighboring counties to the east and west. Pocahontas County took the biggest hit, with a loss of 732 residents, an 8.5 percent drop. It was one of eight counties in Iowa to lose more than 5 percent of its population.
Cherokee County estimates suggest it lost 800 residents, for a 6.1 percent loss since 2000. Other counties in the region saw losses hovering around 4.5 percent.
An Associated Press report suggests soaring land values and operating costs, competition from large-scale operations, tax hurdles and market forces have made it difficult for young families to take over for the nation's graying farmers.
A 2002 survey by farm economists at Iowa State University found that nearly 25 percent of Iowa farmland owners are 75 or older. Another 24 percent are 65 to 74, and nearly 22 percent are 55 to 64.
The most recent census by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows a similar trend nationwide. Based on 2002 figures, the average age of America's estimated 2 million farmers is 55.3 years.
The next national agriculture census is scheduled for 2007, but economists say there is scant evidence to suggest the trend will reverse any time soon.
"The average age of the farmer is going up year after year after year," Pat O'Brien, an economist with the American Farm Bureau told Todd Dvorak of the Associated Press. "And one result of that is that we're seeing right now more and more land being concentrated in the hands of older owners."
The population figures are calculated using administrative records and estimates for births, deaths and net migration. They were recorded before Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast.