June 3, 2014
On May 2, USDA released data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The Census of Agriculture has been conducted since 1840 and currently is collected once every five years. This is the final in a series of drilldown posts, looking at particular themes from the Census that relate to minority and women farmers and ranchers.
To view the other posts in this series, check out the following links:
The new Census data is evident that agriculture in the United States is indeed becoming more diverse. On average, non-white farmers increased by nearly 15 percent over the past five years, compared to a nearly 5 percent decrease among white farmers. Asian American farmers saw the largest growth of 22 percent, following by Hispanic farmers (21 percent), Black farmers (9 percent), American Indiant producers (9 percent) and Native Hawaiian producers (8 percent). In contrast, the number of women farmers decreased at a higher rate than their male counterparts over the past five years.
These categories of farmers all fall under the group known in federal statute as “socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers” that frequently bestows additional considerations, benefits and priority status on groups of producers who have been historically underserved by federal farm programs.
Below, we break down the Census results into specific ethnic and gender groups to try to parse out these trends and better understand where specific farming populations are growing (or shrinking) the most.
One important caveat to understanding the numbers is the extra emphasis placed on outreach to minority farmers in advance of the 2012 Census. While this outreach did occur, it is not possible to know to what extent it factors into the differences from the last Census to this one.
In 2012, farmers of Spanish, Hispanic or Latino origin represented over 3 percent of the total farming population – a significant increase of 11,430 farmers since 2007. Total Hispanic farmers increased by 21 percent over the past five years compared to the 4 percent decrease in farmers overall. Hispanic farmers are the largest ethnic minority group of farmers in the United States with over 67,000 farmers nationwide. They tend to be slightly younger than the average American farmer with the average age of 57.1 compared to 58.3 years old.
Hispanic farmers are most heavily concentrated along the Gulf Coast, Southwest, and West Coast, with Texas, New Mexico, and California having the highest numbers of Hispanic farmers. These geographic trends roughly follow the concentration of these farmers in previous Census years.
Although Hispanics farm in every state throughout the country, Texas ranks first in total number of Hispanic farmers (23,689), and New Mexico ranks first for the greatest percentage of Hispanic farmers – 40 percent of the state’s total farm population. These trends are not all that surprising given the large Hispanic populations in these states overall, and the great number of farmers and ranchers located in Texas.
California, Florida, and Colorado also have large numbers of Hispanic farmers. All of these states saw substantial increases in the number of Hispanic farmers over the past five years, with Texas and New Mexico witnessing the largest growth of 3,338 and 2,902 Hispanic farmers respectively. Nebraska has a relatively small Hispanic farming population but also had the largest percentage growth than any other state with a 90 percent expansion of its Hispanic farming base. Only seven states experienced a loss in the number of Hispanic farmers since 2007.
American Indian & Native Alaskan Farmers
American Indians and Native Alaskan farmers are the second largest ethnic minority farming population in the country, with over 44,000 farmers located in almost every state in the country. In 2012, American Indian and Alaska Native farmers represented almost two percent of the total farming population – an increase of 3,145 farmers compared with 2007. Total tribal farmers increased by 9 percent over the past five years, compared to the 4 percent decrease in all farms overall between 2007 and 2012. However, this growth rate is significantly lower than the 124 percent increase in tribal producers from the previous five years.
Tribal producers are most heavily concentrated in the Southern Great Plains, Southwest and Intermountain West, with northwestern Arizona and Oklahoma having the highest numbers of tribal farmers. Arizona has the greatest number of tribal producers – over 11,000 – and also the highest percentage of tribal producers with over half of the state’s farming population being American Indian. And while Oklahoma has the second largest number of tribal producers, New Mexico has the second highest tribal farming percentage. Texas, Montana, and California also have high concentrations of tribal producers.
Along with having the youngest farmers and the biggest increase in Hispanic farmers, Nebraska also saw the largest growth in tribal producers with a doubling of their farm population over the past five years. Arizona saw the single biggest increase of tribal producers with a gain of 2,754 since 2007.
African American Farmers
African American farmers are the third largest minority group in the country. In 2012, African American farmers represented almost 2 percent of the total farming population – an increase of 2,772 farmers from 2007. The latest Census shows that there were over 33,000 black farmers across the country, which is an increase of 9 percent over the past five years compared to the 4 percent decrease in farmers overall.
Black farmers are, on average, older than the typical American farmer – 61.9 compared to 58.3 years old. Almost half of the country saw a decrease in the number of black farmers over the past five years with 19 states reporting fewer black farmers in 2012 than reported in 2007.
Black farmers are most heavily concentrated in the Southeast, with eastern Texas and Mississippi having the highest numbers of black farmers. Other top states include Alabama, Louisiana, South Carolina, Georgia and North Carolina — which closely follows the states with some of the greatest concentration of African Americans in general. Mississippi has both one of the greatest numbers and highest percentage of black farmers than any other state, and Texas saw the single biggest gain in the number of black farmers with an increase of 2,427 farmers since 2007.
Asian American farmers are one of the smallest, but fastest growing ethnic minority farming populations in the country. In 2012, there were 13,669 Asian farmers represented just over a half percent of the total farming population. This represents an increase of 22 percent – or 2,455 farmers – over the past five years compared to the 4 percent decrease in farmers overall. Asian farmers are also the youngest farmers on average and have a much higher percentage of beginning farmers.
Asian farmers are most heavily concentrated on the Pacific Coast, with California and Hawaii having the highest numbers of Asian farmers. California saw the largest growth and currently has the largest number of Asian farmers with over 3,500 producers – an impressive increase of 1,118 farmers since 2007. Hawaii follows with 2,544 producers and the largest percentage of Asian farmers than any other state at 40 percent. Florida, Texas, Washington, and Arkansas also have large numbers of Asian American farmers, and Minnesota experienced one of the most significant increases in the number of Asian producers over the past five years, with an 80 percent increase since 2007. Nearly every state saw an increase in the number of Asian farmers.
In 2012, women farmers who were the principal operator of a farm represented almost 14 percent of the total farming population – a decrease of 17,945 farmers compared with 2007. In aggregate, principal operator women farmers decreased by 6 percent over the past five years, which is a slightly greater loss compared to the 4 percent decrease in farms overall. This loss is especially stark when compared to the previous Census that revealed a 29 percent increase in the number of female primary operators. It’s unclear why fewer women have entered agriculture over the past five years, however, since on average women farmers are older than their male counterparts, it’s possible that a greater percentage of women retired from agriculture than men in 2012.
While women farm in every state across the country, women farm in the highest numbers in the Northeast, West Coast and parts of the Southwest, with California, Arizona and Texas having the highest numbers of women farmers. Many New England states (including Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut) have some of the highest percentages of women farming – with over a third of their state’s farming populations comprised of women. However, in terms of sheer numbers, Texas, California, Missouri, and Florida lead the country. Texas and Arizona saw the biggest growths in women farmers with an addition of 3,441 female farmers in Texas and 1,815 in Arizona over the past 5 years. Most states, however, experienced a decrease overall in the number of women farming, with Tennessee having the largest loss of over 2,000 women farmers.
Among second and third operators on a farm, the percentage of female farmers is considerably higher than the percentage of principal operators. Women are nearly two-thirds of total second and third operators. Combining all operators, women make up just over 30 percent of all farm operators, the same as in 2007.
As shown by the numbers and trends revealed by the new Census of Agriculture, farming in the United States is indeed becoming more diverse, as more and more ethnic minorities step in to fill the shoes of those mostly white retiring farmers who have dominated agriculture in the United States for much of our country’s agricultural history. Many of these farming populations came to this country as immigrants and refugees — including large populations of Hispanic and Hmong producers, both of whom brought their strong agrarian roots and agricultural skills when they emigrated to the United States. Other producers, like American Indian, Alaska Native, and African Americans, have been farming in this country for centuries and it is impressive that these farming communities continue to grow despite the many challenges that farmers face today.
Unfortunately, with the decrease in principal operator women farmers, the one area that agriculture is not becoming more diverse is that of gender, and men clearly continue to dominate the field of farming even to do this day where more and more women are gaining a larger share of typically male dominated professions. With 86 percent of American farmers today being male, that means that only one out of every seven farm operators is female. There is clearly room for more outreach, training and technical assistance specifically targeted to female producers — as there’s much potential in recruiting a much more diverse next generation of farmers.