This year will conclude our current Census of Agriculture period. The last Census was conducted in 2012. Producers will receive their surveys at the end of this year, and aside from being required by law, your participation in this survey significantly effects how we do business in American Agriculture.
The first Census of Agriculture was conducted in 1848.
Let’s have a look at some of the trends that were identified in the 2012 Census survey, and give some thought as to where we are now, and where things are heading…
NUMBER OF FARMS:
In 2012, we had 3.2 million farmers operating 2.1 million farms on 914.5 million acres of farmland. This calculates out to about 435 acres/farm; but considering there are 1.5 farms for every farmer, the average is more like 664 acres. In 2017, we are likely to see these numbers change, but the real question is, in what direction!?
COSTS OF DOING BUSINESS:
The gross sales from Agricultural products, as well as the costs associated with producing them, increased to record levels in 2012. U.S. producers sold $394.6 billion worth of agricultural products, but it cost them $328.9 billion to produce these products. Prices paid for agricultural products at the farm gate continue to trend upward, though not nearly as much as the rate of inflation, and certainly not at the rate that prices trend upward at the retail level. Unfortunately, the costs to produce those products follow inflation closer than they follow the prices received at the gate.
PERCENT OF FARMS BY SIZE:
The majority of farms have sales of less than $50,000 per year (75% of farms/3% of gross sales in 2012). While 66% of sales in dollars comes from the 4% of farms with gross sales of greater than $1,000,000 per year. It will be interesting to see where this trend moves in 2017. The number of small farms producing high value crops is on the rise, but how much it impacts total sales remains to be seen…look for this to remain static in 2017 on a percentage basis.
SALES BY COUNTY AND STATE:
As usual, California led the nation with 9 of the 10 top counties for value of sales. Fresno County was number one in the United States with nearly $5 billion in sales in 2012, which is greater than that of 23 states. Weld County, Colorado (Greeley) ranked 9th in the top 10 U.S. counties.
The top 5 states for agricultural sales were California ($42.6 billion); Iowa ($30.8 billion); Texas ($25.4 billion); Nebraska ($23.1 billion); and Minnesota ($21.3 billion).
THE FAMILY FARM:
WOMEN IN AGRICULTURE ON THE RISE
All categories of minority-operated farms increased between 2007 and 2012; the Hispanic-operated farms had a significant 21 percent increase.
DIRECT SALES INCREASING
The trend of direct sales to consumers increased significantly between 2007 and 2012. This category of farm businesses will almost certainly increase in the next Census; much of which is driven by the Certification of thousands of Organic Farms nationally, most of which are small operations that market directly to consumers; and the rise in Community Supported Agriculture (CSA’s).
144,530 farm operators reported selling products directly to consumers. In 2012, these sales totaled more than $1.3 billion (up 8.1 percent from 2007). This will continue in 2017 according to several sources.
Perhaps the largest group of farms expected to increase in numbers will relate to Certified Organic Farms. Organic sales were growing in 2012, but accounted for just 0.8 percent of the total value of U.S. agricultural production. Organic farmers reported $3.12 billion in sales in 2012, up from $1.7 billion in 2007. Look for both total sales and sales per farm to increase in this category in 2017 as the USDA Certified Organic Program continues gaining numbers. Consumer demand for Certified Organic products has increased significantly over the past 5 years. The number of large operations (greater than $1,000,000 in sales/year) converting to Organic is steadily increasing to meet that demand. Expect this sector to be a major portion of Agricultural marketings; policy direction; and research & development in the future.
Look for the Agri-Business infrastructure of suppliers, service providers, and manufacturers to step up to this opportunity in a big way over the next Census period.
MECHANIZATION WILL BE IMPORTANT TREND:
The changing face of the labor pool in agriculture will continue to drive demand for mechanization. Technology advances in precision agriculture will create new opportunities for the farmer and those who supply and advise them. The emerging small farm producing higher value crops for direct sales to consumers will be looking to solve their labor and timeliness challenges with more specialized equipment.
Here are a few interesting trends identified in 2012 that are expected to rise in 2017 as well:
- Farms with Internet access rose from 56.5 percent in 2007 to 69.6 percent in 2012.
- 57,299 farms produced on-farm renewable energy, more than double the 23,451 in 2007.
- 474,028 farms covering 173.1 million acres were farmed with conservation tillage or no-till practices.
- Corn and soybean acres topped 50 percent of all harvested acres for the first time.
- The largest category of operations was beef cattle with 619,172 or 29 percent of all farms and ranches in 2012 specializing in cattle.