U.S agriculture census shows fewer farms, bigger operations

By Jessie Higgins
U.S agriculture census shows fewer farms, bigger operations
The number of military veterans farming increased between 2012 and 2017, according to the newly released agricultural census from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Photo by Jessie Higgins/UPI

EVANSVILLE, Ind., April 12 (UPI) -- The latest five-year agricultural census, released this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, confirms that the number of farms in the country continues to shrink while the remaining operations are becoming larger.

"The current picture shows a consistent trend in the structure of U.S. agriculture," Hubert Hamer, the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service administrator, said in a statement.


Between 2012 and 2017, the nation lost nearly 70,000 (3.2 percent) of its mid-sized farms. However, the number of large farms (more than 2,000 acres) increased. And the largest of those farms -- the 4 percent making more than $1 million in annual sales -- accounted for more than 65 percent of all sales in 2017.

This trend is present in nearly every agricultural sector, but it is most prevalent in dairy. During the census period, the United States lost nearly 15 percent of its dairies, while the number of dairy cows in the country increased.

RELATED African swine fever epidemic in China weighs on U.S. agriculture industry

Because the census reflects information collected between 2012 and 2017, it does not include the recent upheaval from America's various trade disputes, which have crashed various crop prices and could force many farms out of business.


The more than 700-page report includes 6.4 million points of information about farms, ranchers and operators.

Some highlights, according to the USDA, include:

RELATED Battling tariffs, Iowa soy farmers visit China on trade mission

- The number of small farms -- those that comprise fewer than 9 acres -- increased during the census period to 273,325 from 223,634.

- Those 273,325 small farms comprise 0.1 percent of all American farmland. Meanwhile, the 85,127 largest farms (of more than 2,000 acres) make up 58 percent of the farmland.

- Just 5 percent of American farms accounted for 75 percent of all sales in 2017.

RELATED Midwestern farmers devastated by uninsured flood losses

- Average annual farm income is $43,053, but only 43.6 percent of farms had positive net cash farm income in 2017.

- Ninety-six percent of farms and ranches are family-owned.

- About 75 percent of farms had internet access in 2017, up from 69 percent in 2012.

- In 2017, more than 130,000 farms sold directly to consumers -- through farm markets or other means -- with revenue of $2.8 billion.

- The number of female farmers in growing. Between 2012-2017 the number of women producers climbed by 27 percent to 1.23 million. The number of male producers, meanwhile, fell by 1.7 percent to 2.17 million.

- The average age for producers is increasing, to 57.5 in 2017 from 56.3 in 2012.


- The number of military veterans entering farming grew by 11 percent.

- Of the nearly 3.4 million producers in the U.S., only 321,261 were considered "young producers" -- age 35 or less. Those young producers tended to be at larger than average farms.

Latest Headlines


Follow Us