NASS: 2012 not a typical year for conducting census but measured the structure of ag
By Carol Ryan Dumas
In explaining key findings in its 2012 Census of Agriculture today, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service noted record high agricultural sales despite severe drought in 2012.
Severe drought in the central part of the U.S., representing the country’s most valuable land and production, challenged crop production and led to a significant depopulation of livestock, said Hubert Hamer, NASS statistics division director.
At $395 billion in 2012, ag sales posted a record high and an increase of 33 percent from the 2007 census. The value of crops sold was $212 billion, an increase of 48 percent from 2007. The value of livestock sold was $182 billion, an increase of 19 percent from 2007.
Average sales per farm increased 39 percent to $187,093, up more than $52,000 from 2007.
Crop farmers benefited the most, with record-high prices for corn, soybeans and hay due to drought-heightened demand, while livestock suffered high feed cost and extremely damaged pasture, Hamer said.
But new research and technology mitigated the effects of the drought, said Joseph Reilly, NASS acting administrator.
USDA and NASS were happy to see the strength and stabilization of agriculture even in an extreme drought year, he said.
California continued to dominate in value of ag production at $42.6 billion, with $30.4 billion in crop sales, and $12.2 billion in livestock sales. Iowa was second in crop sales at $17.4 billion, and Texas was top in livestock sales at $18 billion.
The number of U.S. farms, at 2.1 million, decreased 4.3 percent from the last census, dropping by 95,000 farms. But land in farms, at 915 million acres, decreased only 0.8 percent, losing 7.5 million acres.
Both the number of farms and land in farms have been on a gentle downward slope for the past 30 years, but both have been stable over the last 20 years, Hamer said.
The number of farms has decreased a little more than 75,000 since 1982 and about 71,300 since 1992. Land in farms has decreased by 72 million acres since 1982 and by 30 million acres since 1992.
The average size of farms in 2012 was 434 acres, up 16 acres from 2007. The highest percentage of farms are less than 180 acres, at more than 600,000 farms. The number of farms 1,000 acres and more held steady at about 175,000.
Texas led in both the number of farms and land in farms, with 249,000 farms and 130 million acres. Missouri was second in number of farms with 99,000, and Montana was second with land in farms with 60 million acres.
Other key findings in the 2012 ag census compared with 2007 included:
• A 5.9 percent decrease in females as principal operators;
• A 21 percent increase in Latino farmers with an increase in all ethnic groups as principal operators;
• A continued increase in the average age of farmers, up 1.2 years to 58.3 years old; a 20 percent decline in beginning farmers;
• A 1.4 percent increase in those who reported farming as their primary occupation.
The census also showed: an increase in Internet access, from 56 percent in 2007 to 70 percent in 2012, with gains across the board but more gains amongst Asian and Black farmers, and a near-double increase in farms using renewable energy at 57,299 farms, with solar panels accounting for 63 percent of renewable energy produced on farms.
NASS sent out 3 million questionnaires for the 2012 census and received an 80 percent response rate. The information is important to determine the structure of agriculture and trends to guide ag policy, Reilly said.
It’s also important in informing the non-farm 98 percent of the population and local, state and federal governments and legislators, he said.
NASS will be releasing different census series through December, including the census on aquaculture in September and the census of irrigation in October.
To view the 2012 Census of Agriculture: