Ag Census: Farms are Fewer, But More Diverse

USDA finds the value of ag sales is up significantly while the number of farms is fewer than in 2007

Published on: Feb 21, 2014

During the 2014 USDA Ag Outlook Forum Thursday in Arlington, Va., USDA released preliminary results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

Though the preliminary data is just a taste of the deeper findings to be released in May, USDA did reveal the value of agricultural products sold in the U.S. is up 33% from 2007, totaling $394.6 billion. The number of farms and land in farms were down slightly, but held steady. Additionally, agriculture is becoming more diverse.

"The preliminary data released today provide a snapshot of a strong rural America that has remained stable during difficult economic times," USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack commented in a press statement, noting impacts of the 2012 drought on livestock producers and mid-sized farms.

USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks Thursday at the Ag Outlook Forum in Arlington, Va.
USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack speaks Thursday at the Ag Outlook Forum in Arlington, Va.

Vilsack said the bright spots in the census are manifest in the slight increase in young farmers and the stable number of small farms and large-scale farms.

"This reflects our work to grow both local and regional food systems and exports, but we must do more for mid-sized operations," Vilsack commented.

Additional highlights of the census, Vilsack said, include diversity in crop production, markets, people and land use across the agricultural sector.

"While the aging nature of the farming population is a concern, we are hopeful that as we attract and retain the next generation of talent into rural America."

Highlights of the preliminary data
• In 2012, crop sales of $212.4 billion exceeded livestock sales of $182.2 billion. This occurred for only the second time in Census history; the other time was 1974.

• Between 2007 and 2012, per farm average value of sales increased from $137,807 to $187,093, continuing a steady 30-year upward trend. The increase of $52,285 was the largest rise in Census history.

• Principal farm operators are becoming older and more diverse, following the trend of previous censuses. In 2012, the average age of a principal farm operator was 58.3 years, up 1.2 years since 2007, and continuing a 30-year trend of steady increase. The Census also accounted for more minority-operated farms in 2012 than in 2007.

• In 2012, the United States had 2.1 million farms – down 4.3% from the previous Census in 2007. In terms of farm size by acres, this continues an overall downward trend in mid-sized farms, while the smallest and largest-size farms held steady.

• Between 2007 and 2012, the amount of land in farms in the United States continued a slow downward trend declining from 922 million acres to 915 million. This is only a decline of less than 1% and is the third smallest decline between censuses since 1950.

"Anyone with an interest in numbers will find a treasure trove of data in the ag census," said Bob Young, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation, who pointed out that the sequester last fall and associated furloughs has caused NASS to encounter unusual challenges with this census. "Consequently, the agency has more work to do before full details are available," he said.

NASS Administrator Cynthia Clark confirmed that NASS is still reviewing all 2012 Census items to the county level, which will flesh out current data when full results are released this spring.

View the preliminary report at www.agcensus.usda.gov.