Farm Progress

The number of young farmers, age 25 to 34 years, in the Southwest is going up in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.

Logan Hawkes, Contributing Writer

March 4, 2014

6 Min Read

Last week USDA released preliminary results of the 2012 Nationwide Agricultural Census, and a summary comparison of statistics for the U.S. Southwest is both revealing and interesting.

Of particular note, the number of young farmers, age 25 to 34 years, in the Southwest is going up in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, with New Mexico scoring the greatest increase in that age range. In the region, only New Mexico scored higher than the national 6.6 growth rate for that age range.

Also interesting to note, the total number or farming and ranching operations jumped significantly in New Mexico, up 18.1 percent in 2012 over 2007 census numbers. In Texas there were slightly more farms and ranches, about a 3 percent increase. Oklahoma lost farms and ranches in the latest census, down by 7 percent. Nationwide, there was a loss of 4.3 percent of farms and ranches from the 2007 census numbers.

Total acres dedicated to agricultural production rose nearly 3 percent in Texas, was down 1.6 percent in Oklahoma and fell 3.9 percent in New Mexico since the 2007 census. Nationally, the U.S. lost 0.9 percent of land area that had been dedicated to farming and ranching.

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The average age of farmers in the Southwest rose slightly for New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas collectively, an average age of about 60. Nationally, most farmers fall into the 55 to 64 year old age range but nearly 65 percent of the nation's farmers are over  55 and nearly 80 percent are older than 45.

Over the five-year period from the 2007 agriculture census to the 2012 agriculture census, the number of farms in Texas increased but lost an estimated 200,000 production acres. Overall, Texas leads the nation in total acres dedicated to agriculture with just over 130 million used to produce crops and livestock.

In spite of the punishing multi-year drought, Texas led the nation once again. According to the most recent census, livestock sales in 2012 totaled just over $18 billion. Crop sales in Texas amounted to nearly $7.5 billion according to preliminary census statistics. Over the five years since the last census, the market value of all of Texas agriculture rose by an estimated 21 percent.

Drought continues

Concerning livestock production nationwide, the drought of recent years has taken its toll. The 2012 census reported several historic changes in value of sales. In 2012, crop sales of $212.4 billion exceeded livestock sales of $182.2 billion, only the second time this has occurred in census history. The other time was in 1974.

More women are farming and ranching in Texas, a significant increase over the 2007 census. USDA says the number of women in agriculture in the Lone Star State is up by as much 10 percent. The number of males farming and ranching in Texas is down 2 percent.

New Mexico

According to the preliminary census update, New Mexico has significant increases in the number of farms, young farmers, and minority farmers. The census shows 24,721farms and ranches in New Mexico, an 18 percent increase from the 2007 census. That stands in contrast to a national decline in the number of farms over the same period. The number of acres being farmed drop slightly according to the census.

The average age of the principal farm operator in New Mexico continued its upward trend, rising from 59.6 years old in 2007 to 60.5 years old in 2012. However, there was also an increase in the number of farmers and ranchers under age 34, jumping from 818 in 2007 to the current tally of 1,200. There was a drop in the number of women farming in New Mexico since the 2007 census.

The total value of agriculture production rose in New Mexico, up to an estimated $2.55 billion, up 17 percent from the 2007 census. Leading the way was a combination of livestock and poultry production and sales, nearly $2 billion of total agricultural value and the lion's share of total agriculture revenue.


In spite of losing a significant number of farms, Oklahoma recorded an increase in the number of younger farmers. In the 25 to 34 age group, Oklahoma experienced a slight increase since the previous census. Overall, the average age for Oklahoma farmers rose from 57.6 to just over 58 years old.

Agricultural land area also decreased statewide by 1.6 percent, and the number of farms dropped by about 3 percent. In spite of fewer farms and fewer farmers, production value did increase slightly since the 2007 census.

About four percent fewer male farmers are farming in Oklahoma now compared to the 2007 census count and about 6 percent fewer women are active in agriculture.


Overall nationwide, 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.

Nationally, the 2012 census reported little change in the amount of farmland, a more diverse principal operator population, and several historic changes in value of sales for U.S. agriculture producers from 2007 to 2012.

Overall, the U.S. had 2.1 million farms in 2012, down 4.3 percent compared to the 2007 census. In terms of farm size by acres, the decline continued a downward trend in mid-sized farms, while the smallest and largest-size farms held steady.

The average age of a principal farm operator was 58.3, up 1.2 years since 2007, and continuing a 30-year trend of steady increase. More minority-operated farms were also counted in 2012 than in 2007. In 2012, the value of agriculture products sold totaled $394.6 billion, up 33 percent ($97.4 billion) from 2007.

“The release of the preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture results is only a first look at the data and NASS is eager to publish the final report this May,” said NASS Administrator Cynthia Clark. “The 2012 census was not conducted in a typical crop year, and drought had a major impact on U.S. agriculture, affecting crop yields, production and prices. NASS is still reviewing all 2012 census items to the county level and therefore data are preliminary until published in the final report.”

Conducted since 1840, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. When available in May, USDA-NASS says the final report will provide more detailed information on all farm operators and data down to the county level.

For more information about the census, including access to the 2012 Census of Agriculture preliminary report and the full report when it is released in May, visit


Also of interest:

Agriculture needs infusion of young farmers

Rotary Club expresses interest in farming

Outlook: 2013 tax legislation impacting farmers and ranchers

About the Author(s)

Logan Hawkes

Contributing Writer, Lost Planet

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