Agriculture and natural resources have shaped and continue to shape the culture, economy, and communities of Polk County. Due to the vast forest lands, the lumber industry has long been the main economic driver in Polk County. The lumber industry continues to be the largest employment sector in the county. As the popularity of Lake Livingston has grown over the decades with both weekenders from Houston and retirees the tourism industry has also paralleled this growth. Tourism has now become a major economic driver in Polk County and is tied directly to Lake Livingston. The community views these two natural resources as essential to the economic viability of the county and has thus shaped the views of residents to ensure these resources continue to exist. Agriculture production in Polk County consists of beef cattle, forage land, bee colonies, pecans, nurseries & vegetables, and cut Christmas trees. Beef cattle and forage production are the major drivers of agriculture production and sales in Polk County.
As previously mentioned, forestland and Lake Livingston are important natural resources for the county. Additionally, the forest lands are home to a variety of unique plants and animals especially in the southeastern part of the county where portions of the Big Thicket National Preserve is located. These natural resources provide for a plethora of activities for outdoor recreation including hunting, fishing, boating, wildlife viewing, hiking, and biking. The extension office address issues related to the sustainability of these natural resources. This includes wildlife management, food plot management, habitat destruction through overgrazing, creation of ranchettes, water quality, and pond management. The Piney Wood Lakes Chapter of the Master Naturalist assist with addressing these issues.
As stated above agriculture plays an important role in Polk County. There are approximately 11,300 head of beef cattle in Polk County and account for the top livestock inventory by numbers. Associated with beef cattle is forage land and hay production which accounts for 98% top crop item by value in Polk County. Field & grass seed crops account for 1% of top crop item by value. Other top crop items by value include pecans, vegetables, and cut Christmas trees. All of these crops account for <1% crop item by value. Bee colonies are a growing agriculture sector in Polk County. Bee colonies are becoming very popular and the numbers of colonies are considered second in livestock inventory by number in Polk County behind beef cattle. There are 738 farms in Polk County and this number has decreased by 9% from 2007-2012. However during this same time period average farm size increased by 17% from 162 acres to 189 acres. This is unique for Polk County that farm size is increasing since it is opposite of state trends. The majority of farms are small scale and roughly 50% are used as primary occupation. Because of the small scale of farming in Polk County 32% of farms have less than $1,000 in sales and 42% of farms have $1,000-$10,000 in sales. Net cash farm income for Polk County is $5,079. Agriculture extension programming in Polk County focuses on beef and forage production, horticulture, and bee colonies.
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