By now we all know there are fewer farmers feeding more people than ever before. We also know farmland has declined over the last half century (though not as much as you might think). But the way we know those things is the through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) Census of Agriculture, a five-year accounting that happens again in 2017.
USDA wants to make sure your farm and land are counted for the 2017 census.
But first, more about those stats. Even with the decline in U.S. acreage devoted to farming, still some 40 percent of U.S. land is classified as farmland. The 1949 farm census showed 1,151 million acres of U.S. farmland. By 2002 that had dropped to 921 million acres.
But by 2007, that number had actually climbed a bit to 922 million acres before diving again in 2012 to 915 million acres.
But less acreage in 2012 actually resulted in more harvested land. Of the 915 million acres of land in farms in 2012, 45.4 percent was permanent pasture, 42.6 percent was cropland and 8.4 percent was woodland. The remaining 3.6 percent was land in farmsteads, buildings, livestock facilities, et al. And while the amount of cropland overall was down 4 percent, the amount of cropland harvested was nearly 2 percent more in 2012 than 2007.
And while farmland decreased between 2007-2012, the average size of U.S. farms in 2012 actually increased to 434 acres, 4 percent larger than five years earlier. It’s not surprising then to see that the number of U.S. farms decreased to 2.1 million in 2012, 4 percent fewer than 2007. Agriculture sales, income, and expenses increased between 2007 and 2012.
We’ve all heard that the average age of a U.S. farmer is roughly 57. And we’ve all heard that signals trouble for farming. What we don’t hear – and what the census shows – is that the average farmer in 1964 was in his early to mid-50s and that trend has continued apace for the past 50 years – the line on the USDA NASS graph goes almost straight across.
So what will the 2017 Farm Census reveal? That’s up to you in large part.
America’s farmers and ranchers will soon have the opportunity to strongly represent agriculture in their communities and industry by taking part in the 2017 Census of Agriculture. The census will be mailed at the end of this year to create a complete accounting of all U.S. farms, ranches and the people who operate them.
“The Census of Agriculture remains the only source of uniform, comprehensive, and impartial agriculture data for every county in the nation,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “As such, census results are relied upon heavily by those who serve farmers and rural communities, including federal, state and local governments, agribusinesses, trade associations, extension educators, researchers, and farmers and ranchers themselves.”
The Census of Agriculture highlights land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures, and other topics. This telling information and thousands of other agriculture statistics are a direct result of responses to the Census of Agriculture.
“Today, when data are so important, there is strength in numbers,” said Hamer. “For farmers and ranchers, participation in the 2017 Census of Agriculture is their voice, their future, and their opportunity to shape American agriculture – its policies, services and assistance programs – for years to come.”
Producers who are new to farming or did not receive a Census of Agriculture in 2012 still have time to sign up to receive the 2017 Census of Agriculture report form by visiting www.agcensus.usda.gov and clicking on the ‘Make Sure You Are Counted’ button through June. NASS defines a farm as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year (2017).
For more information about the 2017 Census of Agriculture and to see how census data are used, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov or call (800) 727-9540.