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USDA releases its 2017 Ag Census

By: Jake Putnam
Published in Blog on  April 15, 2019

Washington—Farmers and ranchers across the nation are getting bigger, but there are fewer, that's according to the USDA’s Census of Agriculture just released and reveals that the majority of US farms are family owned.

"We can all use the Census to tell the tremendous story of U.S. agriculture and how it is changing," U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue said in a written statement.

The Census is a ground level snap shot of what’s going on in US agriculture.

“The Power of the census is the ability to visualize and understand important change for key topics in agriculture at the national, state and county level,” said Joe Parsons of the USDA Ag Statistics Board.

The 2017 Ag census covers a broad range of topics about crops, farmers, farms and contains more than 6 million unique pieces of data. Gems like two years ago American farms were not making money and farmers and ranchers are getting older, and smaller farms are selling out.

“There were 2.04 million farm and ranches, thats down 3.2 percent from 2012,” said Parsons who adds that, there were roughly 900 million acres in the country devoted to agricultural uses. And its roughly made up of equal parts of permanent pasture and crop land each at about 400-million acres a piece and then about another 100 million thats woodland and other uses,” said Parsons.

The 2017 Ag census looked into what crops are being planted more, which crops were planted less compared to five years ago, important information for farmers and the changing ag demographic. With the 3 percent drop in farms from 2012.

“The number of farmer in the US decreased by more than 67-thousand farms, many in the mid-sized category 50-499 acres,” according to Parsons. “Looking back across the five year period the largest change in crop acres was in soybeans which were up 14 million acres in 2017 compared to 2012.”

Corn was down 2.7 million acres and wheat was down 10.1 million acres. Of the 3.96-million acres devoted to crop land about 320 million acres was harvest in 2017.

“The really interesting part is to be able to lay this out maps and really be able to see how the changes are playing out across the country and county level,” said Parsons.

According to the USDA, this is the 29th Census of Agriculture and its based on millions of responses by grass root farmers across the nation.

“I really want to thank the farmers and ranchers that filled out the forms, we ended up with 72-percent which is a great result in the research world,” added Parsons. 

Two-thirds of the census was collected via mail, but at least a third came in from an online census website. Idaho had one of the highest compliance rates in the nation.

The Key findings of the Census.

• The 273,000 smallest (1-9 acres) farms make up 0.1% of all farmland while the 85,127 largest (2,000 or more acres) farms make up 58% of farmland.

• Of the 2.04 million farms and ranches, the 76,865 making $1 million or more in 2017 represent just over two-thirds of the $389 billion in total value of production while the 1.56 million operations making under $50,000 represent just 2.9%.

• Ninety-six% of farms and ranches are family owned.

• Average farm income is $43,053. A total of 43.6% of farms had positive net cash farm income in 2017.

The average age of all producers is 57.5, up 1.2 years from 2012. Among key findings in the new Census:

• There are 2.04 million farms and ranches (down 3.2% from 2012) with an average size of 441 acres (up 1.6%)

Some other demographic highlights include these interesting facts:

  • The average age of all producers is 57.5, up 1.2 years from 2012.
  • The number of producers who have served in the military is 370,619, or 11 percent of all. They are older than the average at 67.9.
  • There are 321,261 young producers age 35 or less on 240,141 farms. Farms with young producers making decisions tend to be larger than average in both acres and sales.
  • More than any other age group, young producers make decisions regarding livestock, though the difference is slight.
  • One in four producers is a beginning farmer with 10 or fewer years of experience and an average age of 46.3. Farms with new or beginning producers making decisions tend to be smaller than average in both acres and value of production.
  • Thirty-six percent of all producers are female and 56 percent of all farms have at least one female decision maker. Farms with female producers making decisions tend to be smaller than average in both acres and value of production.
  • Female producers are most heavily engaged in the day-to-day decisions along with record keeping and financial management.

With more than 6-million data points, Parsons and the USDA  think that fellow farmers will probably want to look at the results, plus maps, charts and other data tools online at www.nass.usda.gov/AgCensus.

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