Highlights from the 2017 Ag. Census

    May 7, 2019

Written by Mary Nell Johnson

The 2017 Agriculture Census, which was released this month, provides insight into the number of farms, the overall economic vitality of the industry, and the demographics of farmers throughout the United States.

The 2017 census shows a slight decline in the number of farms—there were 2.04 million farms counted in 2017 compared to 2.11 million farms in the 2012 census. This could be an indication that more farms are consolidating and that large agribusinesses are increasing. For instance, dairy farms dropped from 54,000 farms to 39,000 farms. A statistic supporting this notion is that midsize farms continue to decline, while large farms ($5 million in revenue or more) and small farms increase. Fair Farms is excited to see the number of small farms rise.

The total production of agricultural products equals $389 billion, a decrease from $395 billion in 2012. The net income for total production was $88 billion with more than half of farmers (56.4%) having net cash farm income in the negatives. Despite the large industry, many farmers struggle to have a profitable business. Fair Farms continues to advocate for fair wages and equal opportunities.The average farmer makes a total of $43,053 a year, a 2 percent decline. In comparison, according to the United States Census in 2017, the average male brought home $44,408 a year, while the average female made $36,610 a year. The overall production and wage of farmers outline a contrast in the economic profitability found in the 2012 census. As the college debt exceeds $1.5 trillion in the United States, young adults might not choose to pursue a vocation in farming because of the high upfront costs. Not to mention, the high initial costs associated with purchasing land, seeds, and equipment. Young adults who do enter the industry often have multiple sources of revenue streams to stay afloat.

Consequently, the average age of a farmer remains high, at 57.5 years. Our agricultural sector needs to pave the way for new farmers as the average age of farmers increase. Still, the Ag. Census offers some hope: 27% of farmers are considered “beginning farmers” with less than ten years of experience. Fair Farms hopes to see this number of young farmers continue to rise as it is an indication of new individuals choosing to transition to farming. Our goal is to advocate and advance the operations of new farmers wanting to participate. The number of female farmers continues to rise, with the total number of female farmers increasing by almost 27%. Despite advancements for female operated producers, more improvements need to support minority farmers in the United States because minority groups represent only 4.6 % of United States farmers. Fair Farms hopes the Farm Bill will continue to create more substantial access for a diversity of farmers to participate in the industry in sustainable and thriving ways.  

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