NSAC's Blog

2012 Agriculture Census Released

May 2, 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.

In releasing the Census, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called particular attention to beginning farmer highlights, including that 22 percent of all farmers are beginning farmers who have operated a farm for less than ten years and that the number of younger beginning farmers (35 and under) who report farming as their principal occupation has increased by 11 percent since the 2007 Census, to 40,499.

The Secretary also noted that 30 percent of all farm operators are women and that Latino farm operators have increased 21 percent since the last Census to 99,734.  He also noted that organic sales from farms increased by 82 percent since 2007 to $3.1 billion in 2012.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, the agency which conducts the Census, highlighted in their release that 2012 set records for both the value of farm sales and the costs of production, with farmers and ranchers selling $395 billion worth of products at a cost of $329 billion, such that an average less than 17 percent of sales became actual income.

NASS also noted that in 2012 for the first time ever, corn and soybeans topped 50 percent of all harvested acres.  They also pointed out the 144,530 farms sold directly to consumers, with total direct sales of $1.3 billion, up 8 percent from 2007.

In releasing the Census information, Cynthia Clark, the retiring head of NASS, said: “Once every five years, farmers, ranchers and growers have the unique opportunity to let the world know how U.S. agriculture is changing, what is staying the same, what’s working and what we can do differently. Today, we can start to delve into the details.”

More Soon, Some Snippets in the Meantime

We plan to look more in-depth at what the new Census numbers are telling us in the weeks ahead. For a drill down on what the new Census reveals on emerging trends that are relevant to sustainable agriculture, check out the following links to view the other posts in this series:

Otherwise, for a general overview, continue reading for the bigger picture and specific items that may be of interest.

Farm Size — Using the admittedly crude measure of gross farm sales to segment agriculture into size classes:

• small farms selling between $50,000 and $250,000 worth of product now account for 13 percent of all farms and eight percent of all sales, while a decade ago were 14 percent of all farms but 17 percent of sales;
• mid-sized farms selling between $250,000 and $1 million in product represent eight percent of all farms and 22.5 percent of all sales, whereas a decade ago this sales class was six percent of all farms but nearly 30 percent of all sales;
• large farms with over $1 million in sales account for four percent of all farms, but 66 percent of all sales, up considerably from one percent of all farms and 50 percent of all sales a decade ago; and
• the remaining less than four percent of all sales but three-quarters of all farms still gross under $50,000 a year.

Beginning Farmers — As noted above, 22 percent of all farms are run by beginning farmers, defined as those operating farms for less than 10 years.  The Census allows respondents to name principal operators as well as junior operators of the farm.  Using this enhanced data set reveals that:

• 18 percent of all principal operators are beginning farmers;
• 27 percent of all secondary operators are beginning farmers; and
• 41 percent of all third operators.

The average age of farmers who were the principal operator in 2012 was 58.3 years of age, up from 57.1 five years ago.  Breaking down that average reveals the following age groupings.

• Farmers age 34 and younger now represent six percent of all operators, up from five percent in 2007
• Those between the age of 36 and 64 represent 61 percent of all operators, down from 64 percent five years ago
• Those 65 and older represent 33 percent of all operators, up from 30 percent in 2007.

Counting all operators instead of just principal operators, those same age brackets break down as follows.

• Age 34 and under account for 8 percent of all operators, the same as in 2007
• Age 35-64 account for 63 percent of all operators, considerably less than their 67 percent share in 2007
• Those over 65 have increased from 25 percent of all operators to 29 percent.

Organic — Concentration of production on organic farms continues to be lower than farms overall.  One and a half percent of the largest organic farms account for 25 percent of all organic sales, whereas just two-tenths of one percent of all farms account for 25 percent of all farm sales.  Likewise, 10 percent of organic farms account for 75 percent of total sales, while for agriculture as whole just 6 percent account for 75 percent of total sales.

Farm Sales — Finally, in case you were curious, animal agriculture accounts for 45 percent of all sales, with grains, oilseeds, beans and peas representing a third of all sales.  Fruit and vegetables have an 11 percent share and all other production (hay, sugar, tobacco, sod, aquaculture, etc.) is another 11 percent

Here are some key links on the 2012 Agriculture Census:

Secretary Vilsack’s press release

NASS press release

Agriculture Census home page

Census data

Census Infographics


Categories: Beginning and Minority Farmers, Research, Education & Extension

One response to “2012 Agriculture Census Released”

  1. […] The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition provides a summary of what the new Agriculture Census reveals: Read here.  […]