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2012 Ag Census data provide an agriculture snapshot

Every five years, the USDA conducts a Census of Agriculture to count the number of 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 Ag Census not only looks at national data and trends for farm characteristics, but also does breakdowns on a statewide and county basis. The results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture were recently released, based on data was gathered from farm operators during 2012.

By USDA definition, “A farm is any place from which $1,000.00 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would be sold, during the Ag Census year.” This helps provide some background for understanding the data in the Ag Census. The 2012 Ag Census data, showed a decrease in total farm numbers, with a lot of variation relative to farm size and scope, as well as increases in the number of minority farm operators, large increases in total farm sales, and many other interesting trends. It should be noted that the 2012 Ag Census was not conducted in a typical agricultural production year, as a major drought affected both crop and livestock production levels, as well as leading to record crop prices in 2012.

The 2012 Ag Census listed a total of 2,109,363 farms in the U.S., which is a decrease of 4.3% or 95,429 farms since 2007. U.S. farm numbers have generally been declining since World War II; however, numbers had been more stable since 1992, with farm numbers near 2.20 million from 1992 to 2007. The number larger farms with 1,000 acres or more, and the number of very small farms of less than 10 acres in size, did not change significantly from 2007 to 2012; however, the numbers other sized farms declined at higher rates during the five-year period. The total amount of land in farms in the U.S. declined from 922 million acres in 2007 to 915 million acres in 2012, representing a decline of less than 1%, which was the third smallest decline between Ag Census years since 1950. The average U.S. farm size in 2012 was 434 acres, which is a 3.8% increase over the average farm size of 418 acres in 2007.

The average age of U.S. farm operators in 2012 was 58.3 years old, which was up from 57.1 years old in 2007, and continues a 30-year trend of an increasing average age of U.S. farm operators. The number of farm operators over 65 years old grew significantly from 2002 to 2007, while the number of operators under 35 years old remained steady. In Minnesota, the average age of farm operators in 2012 was slightly below the national average at 56.6 years of age. Women are the principal operators on 6,370 farms, or about 9% of the total farms in Minnesota.

According to the 2012 Ag Census, 87% of all U.S. farms were operated by families or individuals. Beginning farmers, which are defined as farm operators with 10 or less years of experience, accounted for 17% of the Minnesota farms in 2012. Farming was listed as the primary occupation by 53% of the Minnesota farm operators in 2012, compared to 49% in 2007. Farming as a primary occupation means that the farm operator spent more than 50% of their time working and managing the farm, as compared to time spent in another occupation.

In 2012, the market values of crops, livestock, and total agricultural products were each at record highs, resulting in a total of $394.6 billion in agricultural sales on U.S. farms, which was an increase of 32.8 percent from the 2007 agricultural sales level of $297.2 billion. Total production expenses on U.S. farms in 2012 were at a record level of $328.9 billion. U.S. Crop sales in 2012 totaled $212.4 billion, which was an increase of 48% over the 2007 level, while total livestock sales in 2012 were $182.2 billion, representing an increase of 19 percent above 2007 sales. 2012 was only second time in the history of the Ag Census, since 1840, that total U.S. crop sales have exceeded total livestock sales. The other time was in 1974, which was also during a period of record crop prices.

The 2012 average agricultural sales per farm in the U.S. was $187,093, which compares to $134,807 in 2007, an increase of 38.7 percent. The number of farms with total sales above $1 million per year increased from 57,292 farms in 2007 to 81,634 farms in 2012, which is an increase of 42.5 percent. In 2012, 5,393 farms in Minnesota had total agricultural sales of $1 million or more, which is nearly double the number of farms at that level in 2007.  Approximately three-fourths of all U.S. farms had total sales of less than $50,000 in 2012; however, they produced less than 3% of the total agricultural sales for the year. The farms above $1 million in sales represented approximately 4 percent of the total farms, but accounted for about 66% of total U.S. agricultural sales.

From 2007 to 2012, the total number of farms decreased in 34 states, and increased in only 16 states, with the significant farm number decreases in some mid-western states, including Minnesota and Wisconsin. Minnesota ranked 9th in total farm numbers in 2012, with the top five states being Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma and California. Minnesota was the 5th ranking state in total agricultural sales in 2012, trailing only California, Iowa, Texas and Nebraska. Minnesota was 4th in total crop sales behind California, Iowa and Illinois, while ranking 7th in total livestock sales, with Texas, Iowa and California being the leading states.

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