U.S. agriculture gained farmers in 2017, but lost farms, acres and income compared to five years earlier, according to the Census of Agriculture released April 11.
The average farmer got a little older, and fewer farms were owned by families or partners. Most lost money.
There were more young farmers. There was, however, a decline in farmers of prime-working age. The number of farms under 10 acres and more than 2,000 acres increased, while there was a decrease in mid-sized farms.
“We are pleased to deliver Census of Agriculture results to America, and especially to the farmers and ranchers who participated,” Secretary of Agriculture Sony Perdue said in a written statement. “We can all use the census to tell the tremendous story of U.S. agriculture and how it is changing.”
Conducted by the USDA every five years, the census attempts to survey every farm that produces at least $1,000 worth of goods in a year. More than one-third of the farms surveyed reported sales of less than $2,500.
The census provides a nationwide look, and also state and county level information. Yakima and Grant counties in Washington were the ninth and 10th, respectively, top producing counties in the U.S. in 2017. California was the top producing state, followed by Iowa, Texas, Nebraska and Kansas.
The USDA counted 2,042,200 farms in 2017, 3.2% fewer than 2012 and 7% fewer than 2007.
The USDA identified about 900 million farm acres, 1.6% less than in 2012 and 5.7% less than in 1997. The loss over 20 years totaled 54.5 million acres.
The number of farms under 10 acres increased by 22%, while the number of farms over 2,000 acres increased by 3.5%.
Categories in between lost farms. The drop was particularly steep in farms between 50 and 179 acres, with a decline of 10.9%. For farms between, 180 to 499 acres, the drop was 8.9%
The size of the average farm in 2017 was 441 acres, compared to 434 acres in 2012 and 418 acres in 2007.
Farms produced $388.5 billion worth of goods in 2017, down 1.5% from the $394.6 billion sold in 2012. Other farm-related income, such as agritourism, totaled $16.8 billion, while government payments were 8.9 billion.
Production expenses declined by 1% to $326.4 billion from $328.9 billion.
Net farm income was $87.9 billion, down from $92.3 billion in 2012. The figures were not adjusted for inflation.
Slightly more than half the farms, some 1.1 million, reported losing money. The average loss was $20,997.
For the farms that made money, the average gain was $125,754. In all, per-farm net income averaged $43,750, a 2% drop from five years earlier.
Family farms are still dominant, though the number declined to 1.75 million, a drop of 4.2% from the 1.82 million family farms in 2012.
Corporations — both family- and investor-owned entities — owned 116,840 farms, up 9.4% from 106,716 in 2012. The number of farms owned by partnerships declined to 130,173 from 137,987.
The number of farms owned by trusts, estates, associations and Indian tribes increased to 44,081 from 35,654.
A trend toward fewer but bigger dairies continued. The USDA counted 54,599 dairies, down 14% from five years earlier. Over that time, the number of milk cows increased by 3.1%. The number of dairies in 2017 was less than half the 125,000 diaries counted in 1997.
The average farmer got one year older over the five years between censuses. In 2017, the average age was 57.5, compared to 56.3 in 2012.
Some demographic numbers between the 2017 and 2012 censuses are not directly comparable. The USDA counted nearly 3.4 million farmers in 2017, up by 6.9% from the 3.18 million counted in 2012. Farms could report up to four operators in 2017, compared to three in 2012.
More farmers, 1.9 million, had a primary occupation other than farming in 2017.
There was a 10.8% increase in farmers 34 and younger, but there was a 16.8% drop in farmers between 45 and 54.
The census included new information about producers farming fewer than 10 years. The USDA counted 908,274 “young producers,” with an average age of 46.3.
About 11% of farmers were military veterans. The average age was 67.9, more than a decade older than the overall average.