2012 Census of Agriculture Results: Beginning Farmers

Last week the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) announced preliminary results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Because a comprehensive review of all data on a county level has not yet been completed, final numbers will not be available until May.

Overall, numbers for beginning farmers are discouraging. The chart below shows the number of years “principal operators” have been on their present farm” for 2007 (last census) and 2012 (current census).

Years on Present Farm

A “principal operator” is defined as an individual who “materially and substantially” participates in the operation of a farm or ranch, so a farm may have more than one principal operator.

The number of principal operators who had been on their current farm for less than five years dropped from 223,741 to 171,567 between 2007 and 2012, a decrease of 23%. The number of principal operators who had been on their current farm for less than 10 years dropped from 583,386 to 469,138 (20%) in that time.

The one bright spot in the preliminary data was a slight increase in the number of principal farm operators between the ages of 25 and 34. In general, however, the number of operators under 55 years old decreased between 2007 and 2012, while the number 55 an over increased (see chart below). Thus, the longstanding trend of increasing farmer age continues.

Numbers of Farmers by Age


For more information on the preliminary results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture check out the USDA press release at http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Newsroom/2014/02_20_2014.php; a powerpoint from last Thursday’s “Ag Outlook Forum” at http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Newsroom/2014/2012_Census_Preliminary_Results_PPT_FINAL.pdf, or a PDF of the preliminary Ag Census data at http://www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/Preliminary_Report/Full_Report.pdf.

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