USDA has released numbers from the 2007 Census of Agriculture. Since 2002 when the last Census of Agriculture was taken, the number of farms has increased by 4% and during those five years operations have become more diverse according to National Agricultural Statistics Service Deputy Administrator Carol House. The census counted 2,204,792 farms in the U.S., which is a net increase of 75,810 farms since 2002.
"Nearly 300,000 new farms began operation since the last census," House said. "And if you look at those new farms compared to all farms nationwide, these new farms tend to be more diverse in their production, fewer acres, lower sales and younger operators. They also work more off farm than do the typical farmer."
House says that NASS did an outreach effort emphasizing on counting farm and ranch operators who were typically from underrepresented populations; the small, minority and limited resource operators that the department has had trouble counting in previous censuses and the numbers reflect that.
"The 2007 Census of Agriculture counted nearly 30% more female farm operators," House said. "The count of Hispanic operators grew by 10% and the counts of American Indians, Asians, and black farm operators increased as well."
According to NASS Statistics Division Director Joe Prusacki the census show a continuation in the trend toward more small and very large farms.
"We see these middle sized operations going away, or dropping out or less of them," Prusacki said. "Between 2002 and 2007 the number of farms with sales less than $25,000; the number of farms with sales more than half a million grew during that same period."
More than 36% of all farms can be classified as residential or lifestyle farms with operators who have a primary occupation other than farming. Another 21% are retirement farms, where the farmer indicates they are retired.
The Census delved into many other issues and trends, but one that Prusacki highlighted was the number of farms that have Internet access. The census found that 57% of farms have some type of Internet access, which is an increase of 7% since 2002. For the first time the census tracked high-speed access and of those with Internet access, 58% have high-speed Internet connections.
"Other firsts for the 2007 census included questions on on-farm energy generation," Prusacki said. "Meaning windmills, methane gas digesters, and solar cells on the farm. We collected information on community supported agriculture arrangements and additionally a little information on historic barns this time."
House says that the turnaround of assembling the information for this census was much faster than in years past. For the 2002 Census, economic data wasn't available until June, and House is pleased with the efforts NASS has made to make the entire census available in February.
"You know convincing farmers and ranchers to report on the census was really the hard part," House said. "I think now we have a lot of fun ahead; we've got a tremendous wealth of data to share and endless stories to tell about diverse people and operations that provide food, fuel, feed and fiber to the world."
For more on the Ag Census, go to: http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2007/index.asp.