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Results from the 2017 Census for Ag are in

Story by: Allison Parker 5/24/2019

A change in the 2017 Census for

Agriculture allowing respondents to report more than one decision-maker per farm has led to new insight about our farmers.

For the first time, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)’s National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) allowed respondents to list up to four farm producers per operation as farm decision-makers instead of just one. This likely led to an increase in producers from 3.2 to 3.4 million. Allowing multiple farm decision-makers to be registered also revealed that at least 56 percent of all farms have at least one woman making decisions. The number of female producers has increased nearly 40 percent to 40,097, compared to 73,502 male producers, an increase of 2.3 percent from 2012. The average acreage of farms operated by women is 116 acres compared to an average of 161 acres operated by males.

The new multiple farm decision-makers data also provided new information about young farmers, which the USDA defines as age 35 and under. Nationwide, there are 321,261 young producers, which accounts for 8 percent of all producers. The report noted that for many young farmers, farming is not their primary occupation.

Another new category measured the number of new and beginning producers with 10 years or less experience on any farm. Nationally, this group, with an average age of 46.3, accounts for 27 percent of all producers.

The census quantifies direct-to-consumer sales, which totaled $2.8 billion. For the first time, sales from farmers markets, onsite farm stores, and fruit and vegetable stands were counted in the NASS census data.

Results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture were released on April 11, providing data from both traditional and several new categories.

“We have to have data like this to rely on to help us improve American agriculture,” said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue as he announced the release of the data at USDA headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Since 1997, the USDA’s NASS division has remained the only source of comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation. It conducts the Census of Agriculture every five years, covering virtually every aspect of U.S. agriculture, providing a complete count of the nation’s farms and ranches and the people who operate them. It includes data on agricultural land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income, and expenditures.

Farm Trends

The report showed that Tennessee has 9,344 producers who are involved on 7,101 farms with an average of 167 acres per farm.

Nationally, the total number of farms decreased from 2.11 million to 2.04 million since 2012, and the average age of farmers increased to 57.5 years old. The number of large and small farms increased while the number of mid-sized farms declined, making 155 acres the average size of the nation’s farms. The largest operations, or those with at least $5 million in sales, accounted for 35 percent of all sales in 2017. Only these very large farms along with very small farms (annual sales of $2,500 or less) increased in number over the five-year time period.

It is no secret that the dairy industry has had a trying time, which the census confirmed. The number of dairy farms nationwide dropped by more than 17 percent since the 2012 census, but milk sales increased by 4 percent to more than $36 billion.

Agriculture products brought in $389 billion on 900 million acres of farmland, with five commodities accounting for two-thirds of the value. The total value of crops in 2017 was $194 billion, down 9 percent from 2012. For livestock, the value was $195 billion, which is up 7 percent.

The first census of agriculture was conducted in 1840 as part of the decennial census. It included 26 states and the District of Columbia. It broke off from the decennial census in 1920 and was conducted every four or five years. In 1982, the current cycle began with the census being released on years ending in two and seven. The 2017 census is the 29th in the series and the fifth conducted by the NASS. It was transferred from the Census Bureau to the NASS in 1997. It now includes all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and outlying areas.

Looking ahead to the 2022 census, USDA officials stress the continued importance of the census to agriculture.

“The census will remain important and a vital tool for farmers, ranchers, policy makers, and the wider agriculture community,” said Ginger Harris, USDA NASS statistician and demographer. “It provides a current snapshot of U.S. agriculture, but it also lets people look at long-term trends. We also know that the census relies on the farmers and ranchers for the data that we publish. And we want to thank all those who respond to the census.”

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