If asked to name the Texas counties richest in agricultural income, most would guess Panhandle or West Texas counties where cash crops such as cotton and cattle reign.

But with more than $238 million in farm gate receipts in 2002, Nacogdoches rates fourth, beat out only by Deaf Smith, Harris and Castro counties, according to Texas Cooperative Extension's 2002 Agricultural Income Survey.

“It comes as a shock to many that one of the top agricultural counties in terms of income is not in the Panhandle or West Texas,” said Jackie Risner, Extension agent for Nacogdoches County.

The miles and miles of row crops out west look impressive, but the agriculture in Nacogdoches is more diverse, Risner said.

In comparison, most of Deaf Smith County's total ag income of $416 million was from beef, cotton and other row crops.

Harris County, although urban, ranks second with 2002 ag income at $299. million. The majority of Harris County ag income is nursery and bedding plant related ($185 million) with horses ($20 million), dairy ($37 million) and beef cattle ($37.8 million) comprising most of the remainder.

Castro third

Castro County ranked third, with $261 million in total ag receipts. As with Deaf Smith County, most of Castro County's ag income comes from the big three: cotton, other row crops and fed beef.

Here's how the major ag income breaks down in Nacogdoches County:

  • Hay and feed crops, $18.8 million.

  • Vegetable crops and melons, $2.1 million.

  • Fruits and nuts (mostly peaches and blueberries), $847,000.

  • Nursery and other miscellaneous crops, $1.35 million.

  • Poultry, including broilers, farm chicks and hens, $146 million.

  • Milk, $1.9 million.

  • Beef (all), $21.6 million.

  • Goats, hogs and other meat animals, $922,000.

  • Honey, $10,000.

  • Furs and pelts, $2.65 million.

  • Hunting leases on agricultural land, $5.0 million.

  • Recreation use of farm land, $36.1 million.

  • Christmas trees, $37,000.

  • Miscellaneous ag-related income, $950,000.

  • Timber, $36.1 million.

Broilers important

In Nacogdoches County, broiler houses account for more than half of the county's total ag income. One house produces five batches of 20,000 birds each per year, or 100,000 birds total. The average poultry farm has six houses, yielding a total of 600,000 birds annually. Figure five pounds per bird, and the average poultry farm produces 3 million pounds of chicken a year, according to Risner.

“No matter how you look at it, that's a lot of protein,” Risner said.

Risner said conservative estimates put 400 poultry farms in Nacogdoches, for a total of 1.2 billion pounds of chicken produced in the county each year.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, United States citizens consume about 45 pounds of chicken each and every year. Figuring the U.S. population to be roughly 280 million, this means the country consumes about 12 billion pounds of chicken annually.

“This means Nacogdoches County produces 10 percent of the chicken consumed in the United States every year,” Risner said.

Risner noted that a few years ago he had trouble convincing some West Texas Farm Bureau members, most of whom grew row crops, to hold a convention in Nacogdoches.

“Then I told them it takes 120,000 acres of corn just to supply the poultry industry in Nacogdoches County for one year,” Risner said.

Shelby, Cherokee

Two other East Texas counties, Shelby and Cherokee, rank high in ag income too. Shelby County with $215 million ranks 12th in the state; Cherokee with more than $200 million ranks 15th.