New Census data shows decrease in the number of farms, growth in the average farm size

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ARLINGTON, Va. -- New Agriculture Census data show the number of farms and acres in farming has gone down since 2007.

The 2012 Ag Census data revealed that there are now about 2.1 million farmers, a 4.3 percent decrease from the 2007 Ag Census. There was also about a 1 percent loss of acreage in farm use from 2007, down to 915 million acres.

Initial results from the 2012 Ag Census were released Thursday as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's 2014 Ag Outlook Forum. The USDA collects census data every five years. It shows the demographic data of America’s farms and farmers. It also shows production information for every county.

“The data is preliminary,” said Tom Vilsack, U.S. secretary of agriculture, during Thursday’s forum. He also urged the public not to compare results.

The data also show that the overall average size of the U.S. farm has increased, now at about 434 acres. The size of middle-sized farms decreased. Farms smaller than 10 acres and farms larger than 1,000 did not change.

Vilsack said National Agriculture Statistics Service staff worked on perfecting the reporting methods, and some of the prior modes of analysis were not used for this census.

Yet, the USDA provided many 2007 to 2012 Ag Census comparisons.

The data show the value of agriculture products sold by farms in the United States in 2012 was at $395 billion.

The majority of farms had sales less than $50,000 per year.

For only the second time in Ag Census history, crops surpassed livestock in sales. Both categories were up from 2007 -- crops by 48 percent at $212.4 billion and livestock by 19 percent at $182.2 billion.

The 2012 Ag Census shows good news for Iowa’s farm industry and bad news for Missouri's.

Iowa moved up to the number two spot in both crop and livestock sales, second only to California. Iowa had a $10 billion increase in the market value of goods, reporting $30.8 billion for 2012.

Iowa did lose farms, though.

The state recorded a 2.7 percent loss. Still, farms with 1,000 acres or more grew by 9.8 percent to more than 8,000.

Missouri, while still ranked second to Texas for the total number of farms, was noted as having a statistically significant loss of farms and the land in farming. The Show-Me state lost nearly 1 million farm acres.  The state had less than 1 percent growth in the market value of agriculture goods.

During a Census review panel, an Ag Statistics Service spokeswoman pointed out areas that were statistically significantly different, not just different – such as the farm and land loss in Missouri.

Another such area was the growth in Hispanic and Latino principal operators. That area grew by 21 percent. Yet, there are still less than 70,000 producers in this category.

Asian producers tended to be younger -- about 56 years old -- compared to the typical U.S. farmer, who is typically 58 years old. Also, more than a third of Asian farmers operated farms earning more than $50,000 per year.

Overall, Department of Agriculture officials said minority ownership increased, with nearly 160,000 minority principal operators in 2012. That is up 12 percent from 2007.

However, white producers still make up the majority of U.S. farmers at 92 percent of the principal operators.

In 2002, the the Department of Agriculture started allowing up to three operators per farm to complete the census. This was allowed again in 2012, but the preliminary data only includes the principal operator.

Adding in additional operators could alter the final results that will be out in May.

The final data will also include county and state data, as well as per-crop details. Some geographic areas, such as Guam, that had been included in previous Censuses are not in the 2012 version because of government budget sequesters and the fall 2013 government shutdown.

Those two federal government events slowed down the analysis and reporting process, said Department of Agriculture officials.

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