Historically, Stearns County has experienced a steady increase in the number of farming operations and the amount of land in production. In recent years, Stearns County has experienced a decrease in both categories. The 2017 Census of Agriculture reported a 14% decrease in the amount of farm land (acres) between 2012 and 2017. The number of farming operations also decreased by 16%. This national trend reflects some of the challenges farmers are facing in today’s economy. For example, farmers are experiencing lower commodity prices, while the cost of production has increased. The total operating expenses for all of Stearns County’s farms increased from $270.7 million to $591.7 million between 2002 and 2017. This has created a situation where many farmers have a negative net income, and forced to sell their land or remove their land from production to get by.
The number of jobs in Stearns County increased by more than 30% between 2000 and 2018 from 68,455 to 89,371. The majority of these jobs are within Health Care/Social Assistance, Retail Trade, and Manufacturing sectors. Stearns County’s recent job growth during this time is also reflected in its unemployment rate. Unemployment has decreased from 6.8% to 3.4% between 2010 and 2017.
The 2017 Census of Agriculture has started to track the number of young and new/beginning producers. A young producer is defined as a producer 35 years of age or younger. A new/beginning producer includes producers operating on any operation for 10 years or less. They may be on farms with producers who are not beginning producers. The 2017 Census of Agriculture included the following findings for Stearns County:
The extraction of natural resources such as granite and aggregate are an important part of Stearns County’s economy. The premature development of homes and businesses can limit the extraction of the resource. Additionally, locally extracted aggregate can keep the cost of new roads and home foundations lower, making for more cost efficient development. Stearns County has many granite and aggregate quarries. Remaining granite is mostly found in the eastern part of Stearns County. Remaining aggregate is found throughout the County.