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Thursday, February 05, 2009

The Ag Census Is Out, And You Are In It!


Two years ago every farmer either had to fill out a questionnaire, or was called by an Agriculture Census taker, or was paid a personal visit. Despite the fact that most folks do not like the intrusions on their privacy, the statistics collected have been compiled and now the US government can begin to formulate responses to problems that were identified in the Ag Census data. But what does that data really show?

Hundreds of numbers were collected from every farm and farm family, and when aggregated with your neighbors, with other farmers producing the same commodities, and with other farmers in the same demographic group, those numbers will identify trends when compared with past Ag Census data. Rural sociologists, ag economists, and others will be analyzing the numbers for years to come, so a comprehensive report is beyond our scope today. Let’s look at some of the early information on the Cornbelt farmer, but don’t worry, there is no way to identify your individual farm.

USDA’s Ag Census data is available in numerous reports. The Farm Numbers report indicates 2,204,792 farms in the US, up 4% from 2002, reversing a trend that began in the late 1940’s. The definition of farm requires the sale of $1,000 or more agricultural products. 39 states recorded increases, while 11 states recorded decreases in numbers, including SD, NE, and OH. Other Cornbelt states were in the growth sector.

Operations that declined included: beef enterprises, grain and oilseed farms, dairy farms, nursery and greenhouses, swine operations, cotton farms and tobacco farms. Operations that grew in number compared to 2002 included: hay and other crop farms, aquaculture, fruits and nuts farms, sheep and goat farms, poultry and egg farms, and vegetable operations.

Farms that recorded sales between $1,000 and $250,000 declined in number. Farms with sales under $1,000 and over $250,000 all increased in number. Since the 2002 Ag Census, 291, 329 new farms began operations. They were generally smaller than the average farm, which had 418 acres and $135,000 in commodity sales. Only 45% of operators list farming as their primary occupation. Farms which had sales over $250,000, which were identified as family farms, made up only 9% of the total, but produced over 63% of all ag products sold.

In the demographics section of the Ag Census, USDA says, “One of the most significant changes in the 2007 Census of Agriculture is the increase in female farm operators, both in terms of the absolute number and the percentage of all principal operators. There were 306,209 female principal operators counted in 2007, up from 237,819 in 2002 – an increase of almost 30 percent.”

Farmers are also growing older. The average age is 57.1 years, up from 55.3 in 2002 and 50.5 in 1978. In the past 5 years there was a 20% increase in the number of farmers over 75 years old, and a 30% decrease in the number of farmers under 25.

The economics portion of the Ag Census indicates a 48% increase in the market value of products sold, and a 43% increase in the average per farm, since 2002. Production expenses rose in that 5 years by 39% nationally and 34% per farm. Net cash income climbed 84% nationally and 78% per farm to $33,827.

Contract production expanded by 55% since the 2002 Ag Census, but only 2% of farms were engaged in contract production. They produced 16% of the total value of all ag products sold.

Nine states produce 50% of the total value of ag products, including the Cornbelt states of IA, NE, KS, IL, MN, and WI. California and Texas are at the top of the list and North Carolina is in 8th position.

There was no surprise in the 2007 Ag Census that US agriculture has grown since the last count was made in 2002. But a major surprise was the fact that the number of farms has increased, reversing a 60 year trend. The typical farmer is growing older, but has more sales. The commodity farms that produce corn, beans, cattle and hogs have declined in number to make way for farms producing vegetables, fruits, aquaculture, and specialty animals.

(Take a look at some of the data, and share your observations, whether you are surprised, concerned, or whether you had predicted the trends.)

Posted by Stu Ellis on 02/05 at 01:23 AM | Permalink


"The definition of farm requires the sale of $1,000 or more agricultural products." "Farms with sales under $1,000 . . . increased in number." Huh? Tom: My thoughts exactly! You landed upon what seems to be a discrepancy, but I suppose they took all of the farms, and those that did not make it up to the $1,000 threshold, they still plugged into some pigeonhole that was worth tabulating. ~Stu

Posted by: Tom Snyder at February 5, 2009 10:10AM

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