2012 Census of Agriculture

On May 2, 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) released the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The Census of Agriculture (COA) is the most comprehensive source of data portraying our nation’s agriculture over time. The COA is conducted every five years by USDA-NASS and is used by government agencies, policymakers, producers, farm and ranch organizations, and state and local governments to plan for agriculture and to implement farm related programs and policies. The COA is a reliable source for a variety of agricultural data—notably production and operator characteristics—on the national, state and county levels.

The COA is critical to people who care about the future of agriculture and agricultural land:

  • Helps us understand the extent of agriculture and how much land supports the current level of production. Nationwide, 2.1 million farms cover 914,527,657 acres. Farmers and ranchers manage 40.5 percent of the U.S. total land area.
  • Provides information about the economic contribution and health of farm and ranch operations. In 2012, farms and ranches generated more than $394.6 billion in agricultural sales, up 32.8 percent from 2007. Farm production expenses also increased by about $88 billion. Overall, U.S. farms still realized a $92 billion increase in net cash income, which was up 29.3 percent from 2007. 
  • Tracks information about farm operator age and the amount of land they own. The average age of operators is now 58.3. There are nearly six times as many operators 65 and older as 34 and younger. Older operators farm 32 percent of U.S. agricultural land and own 73 percent of these acres.
  • Gives us data about the next generation of farmers. The number and percentage of beginning farmers has reached a 30-year low. Just between 2007 and 2012, the number of beginners dropped 20 percent to 469,098.

On this Page

AFT's Farmland Information Center staff will examine a range of topics from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Check back for additional posts, links and downloadable tables.

Land in Farms

Beginning Farmers

Land Owned by Operators 65 and Older

Land Devoted to Growing Fruits and Vegetables


Land in Farms

The COA tracks land uses on farm operations as reported by farm operators. Major categories include: total cropland, total woodland, permanent pasture and rangeland, and all other land including farmsteads, buildings, livestock facilities, ponds, roads, etc. Combined, these categories equal "land in farms." From 2007 to 2012, land in farms dropped from 922,095,840 acres to 914,527,657 acres. This represents only a 0.8 percent decrease, but continues a steady decline that has resulted in a 72 million decrease in land devoted to agriculture since 1982.

Net changes in land in farms can be misleading. They provide one measure of the magnitude of agricultural activity, but do not tell us what is happening to the resource base. Decreases in land in farms, for example, do not equate to or represent conversion; they indicate that land has been taken out of active production. This land is likely to be vulnerable to conversion, particularly in areas experiencing development pressure. A better source for information about development and dynamic changes in land cover/use is the National Resources Inventory.

According to the COA, 19 states increased land in farms between 2007 and 2012. States experiencing the largest acre increases were:

1. Florida 316,772
2. Colorado 281,765
3. Idaho 262,726
4. California 204,306
5. Virginia 198,519

The largest percentage increases were:

1. Maine  7.9 %
2. Connecticut  7.6 %
3. Florida 3.4 %
4. Rhode Island 2.6 %
5. Virginia   2.4 %

Thirty-one states experienced declines in land in farms. The largest acre decreases were:

1. Montana   1,629,545
2. Kentucky  943, 774
3. Minnesota 882,124
4. Missouri  760,436
5. Oklahoma  731,159

The largest percentage declines were in:

1. Kentucky  6.7 %
2. Alaska 5.4 %
3. Georgia  5.2 %
4. Mississippi   4.6 %
5. Wisconsin    4.1 %

For the first time, the COA included information about “land under conservation easement.” USDA-NASS, however, did not provide much guidance to operators about this question. These numbers could include the number of farms and farm acres under a range of easement types and may include agreements under the Conservation Reserve Program, Wetlands Reserve Program and permanent agricultural conservation easements held by public or private entities. The numbers are problematic because there is no differentiation between land covered by easements that prohibit future agricultural use and those intended to keep land available for agriculture.


Beginning Farmers

USDA defines beginning farmers as individuals who have been operating a farm for 10 years or less.  The Census of Agriculture (COA) historically tracked “years on present farm” (YOPF) for operators and only published data for those with fewer than 10 years of experience.  These numbers were used by many entities to talk about beginning farmers.

The 2012 COA, however, also includes “years operating any farm” (YOAF).  This is a new data item (and probably a better approximation of the number of beginning farmers).  Note that all comparisons to earlier census years use “years on present farm” data because that is all that was available for earlier census years. Unless noted, the numbers represent principal operators.

Years on Present Farm 

  • Nationwide, the number of beginning farmers has reached a 30-year low. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of beginning farmers dropped 20 percent to 469,098.
  • Beginning farmers now represent the smallest share of principal operators (22 percent) during the 30-year span between the 1982 and 2012 COAs.
  • Nineteen percent of beginners are 34 and younger, whereas only 6 percent of all principal operators fall in this age bracket. Twenty percent of beginners are 35 to 44; 25 percent are 45 to 54; 22 percent are 55 to 64; and 14 percent are 65 and older.  Sixty-one percent of beginning farmers are 45 and older, whereas 71 percent of all principals are 45 and older.
  • Overall, beginners are more likely to be female. Women operators represent more than 17 percent of beginners but less than 14 percent of all principal operators.
  • Beginners are also more likely to be “Spanish, Hispanic or Latino.” Spanish, Hispanic or Latino operators make up 4.6 percent of beginners compared to 3 percent of all operators.

Nationwide, the largest number of beginning farmers (YOPF) were found in:

1. Texas  65,547
2. Missouri    21,545
3. California  20,648
4. Oklahoma    19,873
5. Kentucky  17,257
6. Iowa 15,949
7. Ohio 15,098
8. Tennessee  14,972
9. Illinois 13,596
10. Wisconsin 13,195

Nationwide the largest percentages of beginning farmers (YOPF) were found in:

1. Alaska 34.65 %
2. Rhode Island 30.81 %
3. Maine 29.67 %
4. Hawaii  29.23 %
5. Vermont 28.14 %
6. Florida 27.41 %
7. Washington  27.11 %
8. Wyoming 26.68 %
9. California 26.52 %
10. Texas 26.34 %

The states with the smallest percentages of beginning farmers (YOPF) were:

1. Minnesota 16.51 %
2. North Dakota 17.08 %
3. South Dakota 17.58 %
4. Iowa   17.99 %
5. Illinois   18.11 %
6. Delaware 18.12 %
7. Wisconsin 18.92 %
8. Arizona 19.22 %
9. Indiana 19.25 %
10. New Jersey 19.35 %

Years on Any Farm

  • In 2012, 382,396 principal operators reported they had less than ten years operating any farm.
  • Twenty-two percent of these beginners are 34 and younger, whereas only 6 percent of all principal operators fall in this age bracket. Twenty percent are 35 to 44; 25 percent are 45 to 54; 21 percent are 55 to 64; and 13 percent are 65 and older.  Fifty-eight percent of beginning farmers are 45 and older, whereas 71 percent of all principals are 45 and older.
  • Overall, beginners are more likely to be female. Women operators represent more than 18 percent of beginners but less than 14 percent of all principal operators.
  • Beginners are also more likely to be “Spanish, Hispanic or Latino.” Spanish, Hispanic or Latino operators make up 4.7 percent of beginners compared to 3 percent of all operators.

Nationwide, the largest number of beginning farmers (YOAF) were found in:

1. Texas  53,302
2. Missouri    17,133
3. California  16,493
4. Oklahoma    15,854
5. Kentucky  13,595
6. Iowa 12,851
7. Ohio 12,498
8. Tennessee  12,206
9. Illinois 11,442
10. Florida 10,796

Nationwide the largest percentages of beginning farmers (YOAF) were found in:

1. Rhode Island 28.08 %
2. Alaska 27.69 %
3. Maine 24.85 %
4. Hawaii 23.81 %
5. Florida 22.61 %
6. Washington 22.43 %
7. Vermont 22.27 %
8. Louisiana 21.46 %
9. Texas 21.42 %
10. Massachusetts 21.26 %

The states with the smallest percentages of beginning farmers (YOAF) were:

1. Minnesota 13.60 %
2. South Dakota 14.02 %
3. Delaware 14.28 %
4. North Dakota  14.31 %
5. Iowa 14.50 %
6. Illinois 15.24 %
7. Wisconsin 15.35 %
8. Indiana 15.91 %
9. Arizona 15.96 %
10. Nebraska 16.07 %

 

Land Owned by Operators 65 and Older


Land Devoted to Growing Fruits and Vegetables


News Category: 
Featured News
Date: 
Wednesday, May 14, 2014