Every five years, the USDA conducts a Census of Agriculture in order to count the farms and ranches in the U.S., and the number of people who operate them. The ag census data looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, farm income and other characteristics. The census not only looks at national data and trends for farm characteristics, but also does breakdowns on a statewide and county basis. The 2007 Census of Agriculture data was gathered from farm operators early in 2008, and the results were released in early February 2009. Complete census data is available from the National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) web site.

By USDA definition: “A farm is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were or normally would be produced during the ag census year.” This helps provide some background for understanding the census data. The 2007 data showed an increase in total farm numbers – with a lot of variation relative to farm size and scope – increased numbers of female and minority farm operators, increased farm income and expenses and many other interesting trends. Following is a summary of some of the national highlights of the 2007 ag census data, as compared to the 2002 data:

  • Farm Numbers:
    • The 2007 census listed a total of 2,204,792 farms in the U.S., which is an increase of 4%, or 75,810 farms, since 2002. Overall, farm numbers have generally been declining since World War II; however, numbers have been much more stable sine 1992.
    • The growth in farm numbers from 2002 to 2007, came primarily from the very small farms (annual sales of less than $1,000), which increased 118,000 farms; and the larger farms (annual sales of $500,000 or more), which grew by 46,000 farms. Most small to mid-sized farm size categories (annual sales from $10,000 to $250,000) had declines in farm numbers during the past five years.
    • A total of 291,329 new farms started operation from 2003 to 2007, with these new farms tending to be smaller, with younger operators, and having more off-farm income, compared to average U.S. farms. New farms on the average had 201 acres of land with $71,000 in annual sales, compared to the U.S. average for all farms of 418 acres and $135,000 in sales. The average age of the new farm operators was 48 years old, compared to the national average farm operator age of 57 years old.
    • In 2007, the 125,000 (6% of total farms) largest farms in the U.S. produced 75% of the total agriculture production. By comparison, in 2002, 75% of the total U.S. ag production was from 144,000 farms.
    • In 2007, farms with annual sales of $1 million or more accounted for 59% of all U.S. ag production, which was an increase from 47% in 2002.
    • 21% of the listed farm operators are considered retired, while another 36% are considered residential/lifestyle operators, where farming is not their main occupation. The large and very large family farms made up only 9% of the farm operators, but accounted for 63% of the total production.
  • Farm Demographics :
    • The 2007 census showed that of the total of approximately 2.2 million farms in the U.S., about 1.83 million farms were operated by white males; however, there were large increases in the numbers of non-white and female farm operators from 2002 to 2007.
    • The number of Hispanic farm operators increased by 10% during that five year period, and there were significant gains in the number of Asian and American Indian farm operators, as well.
    • There were 306,209 females listed as the primary farm operator in 2007, which is a increase of 30% from 2002.
    • The average age of U.S. farm operators in 2007 was 57.1 years old, up from 55.3 years old in 2002. The number of farm operators over 75 years old grew by 20% from 2002 to 2007, while number of operators under 25 years old dropped by 30%.
    • Only about 1 million farm operators (45%) reported farming as their primary occupation and source of family income in 2007. About 65% of farm operators reported working off the farm, with 900,000 working more than 200 days/year off the farm.
    • In 2007, 57% of farm operators had Internet access, which is up from 50% in 2002. Of those with access, 58% had high-speed access.
  • Farm Economics :
    • The 2007 census showed that U.S. farms had a total of $290 billion in agriculture products sold, and $241 billion in production expenses. The total sales increased by 48% compared to 2002, while the expenses increase 39% from 2002.
    • In 2007, the average farm in the U.S. had $134,807 in sales, received $9,523 in government payments, had $109,359 in production expenses and showed an average net cash income of $33,827. By comparison, the average net cash income in 2002 was $19,032. Less than 50% of farms had a positive net cash income in 2007.
    • Total farm production expenses increased by $68 billion (39%) from 2002 to 2007. The largest increases over the five years were for fuel expense (+93%), fertilizer (+86%), seed costs (+ 55%) and feed expense (+ 55%).
    • The number of farms involved in contract production declined by 14% from 2002 to 2007; however, the value of commodities produced under contract increased by 55% to $49 billion during that period. There are only 2% of U.S. farms involved in contract production, but they account for 16% of total production.
    • Nine states account for half of the ag production in the U.S. The top producing states are California (11.4%), Texas (7.1%) and Iowa (6.9%).
    • Of the nearly $300 billion in total sale of ag products in 2007, grain and oilseed sales accounted for 26% of the sales, followed by cattle and calves at 21%, poultry and eggs at 12% and milk products at 11%.
    • In 2007, 840,000 U.S. farms received just over $8 billion in government payments, an average of about $9,500/farm, with a majority of that going to grain producers. Approximately $1.8 billion of that total was for the Conservation Reserve Program.

Editor’s note: Kent Thiesse is a former University of Minnesota Extension educator and now is Vice President of MinnStar Bank, Lake Crystal, MN. You can contact him at 507-726-2137 or via e-mail at kent.thiesse@minnstarbank.com.