Oh give me a home where the beef cattle roam, and the dairy cows and broiler chickens play.

In the Washington area, that is becoming harder and harder to do.

In the past decade the amount of local farmland has shrunk as has the number of farms. Plots of land once striped with soybeans, corn, wheat and barley are being replaced with a faster growing crop of lucrative housing and retail developments.

While some measures are under way to preserve the area's agricultural land, many farmers are giving up anyway because farming has become too costly for them and too expensive, particularly in the Washington area, for younger persons to enter, local economists said.

For example, the average net income for Virginia farmers rose from $2,255 in 1970 to only $5,010 in 1978, according to state figures, a 45 percent increase. That compares to the overall net income for Virginians of $10,600.

"That's why they're all selling out their land to become shopping centers," said Ray Owens, an agricultural economist for the Virginia Department of Agriculture.

In the meantime the farming is growing on the back porches, balconies, gardens and windowboxes of city dwellers eager for the sweet taste of home-husked corn, crunchy carrots and other vegetables.

"There are no farms in Washington," said Al Smith, the city's cooperatuve extension agent, "but there's an emphasis on urban horticulture."

"The number of vegetable gardens has grown" in the city "particulary since food costs have gone up."

Regardless of agriculture's fall from popularity in rural areas, it is still the largest industry in Maryland and Virgina although its share of the revenue pie in the local area is falling, local agriculture economists said.

The recession is also hurting local farmers, the economists said.

"It's hit them pretty severely," Owens said. interest rates seemed to have peaked in the spring, the time farmers often borrow to finance their plantings, Owens said. "The ones who are especially hurt are the young and those already in debt."

The recession "hit them about the same time as the grain embargo" announced earlier this year against the Soviets in retaliation for the invasion of Afghanistan, Owens added.

In addition, the prices of livestock, poultry and pork "dropped drastically," Owens continued.

"The farmer borrows in the spring and pays off his loan at harvest," explained Ronald Johnson, director of the division of marketing for the Maryland Department of Agriculture. "with the increase in the interest rates, and inflation, he's being hit doubel-barrel."

One of the few local relative money-makers for famers is the dairy business, economists said, because government rugulations help keep prices up. Both Maryland and Virgina have clusters of diary farms.

Frederick County Md., is the largest dairy-producing county in the state and one of the largest concentrations of dairy farms in the nation, close to counties in dairy-producing sates like Wisconsin, johnson said.

Dairy herds in Frederick produced 423 pounds of milk in 1978, which accouted for 27 percent of the states production.

Upper Montgomery, Howard and Carroll counties also have dairy and beef cattle farms, johnson said.

Tobacco is still a big crop in Anne Arundel, Prince George's and Charles counties, Johnson said. "We still produce about 30 million pounds of tobacco a year" in those areas and in St. Mary's and Calvert counties.

Last year, however, those crops suffered because of poor weather, Johnson said.

Tobacco is the third largest field crop in the state, Johnson said, behind corn, which is the largest, and soybeans. One third of Maryland's tobacco is sold to foreign countries. The Swiss use so much of it, Johnson siad, that a cirgarette produced there has been named after the state. The state also boasts a large production of boiler chickens, pork and beef, Johnson said.

The number of farms in the Maryland suburban area has decreased steadily. And Johnson said that surprisingly, the sizes of farms have started to decrease after an upward trend since 1935.

The number of farms in Anne Arundel, Charles, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties dropped from 4,811 in 1969 to 4,587 in 1978. The average size of the farms decreased from 145 acres in 1968 to 133 acres while the value per acre increased from $935 to $2,545.

Northern Virginia is known for its livestock farms sizeable horse industry. Owens said. Loudon County also has a large dairy industry.

Fredericksburg is a big grain producig area with large livestock and cattle farms, Owens continued.

Blended into a livestock growing area is a little grain production to support the herds, said Graham Copeland, a crop specialist for virginia.

To support the landscaping of Washington's commercial and government buildings and homes, the Northern Virginia area has sod and nursery farms, Copeland said.

The state's top cash crop however, is tobacco, grown mostly in southern Virginia. It is followed by soybeans, a specialty of the coastal plains as far north as Fauquier county, and peanuts grown in the Tidewater area. Copeland said.

The number of Virginia farms has decreased from 76,000 in 1970 to 59,000 last year and the total acreage has dropped from 11.4 million to 9.7 million, Owens said.

The average farm size has increased from 150 acres to 164 acres during that period while each unit's value has shot up from $286 to $864.