New Trends in Farming

The Lempert Report
May 19, 2014

Across the United States there are 3.2 million farmers operating 2.1 million farms on 914.5 million acres of farmland

According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, across the United States there are 3.2 million farmers operating 2.1 million farms on 914.5 million acres of farmland. 

The agriculture census provides a very detailed look at US farming across national, state and county levels and provides insight into new trends as well as how current operations may evolve.  Here are a few key facts from the census that illustrate some new themes in the farming sector: 

It seems record sales were tempered by high product costs. According to the census, both sales and production expenses reached record highs in 2012. U.S. producers sold $394.6 billion worth of agricultural products, but it cost them $328.9 billion to produce these products

The census also showed an increased diversity amongst farmers: All categories of minority-operated farms increased between 2007 and 2012; the Hispanic-operated farms had a significant 21 percent increase.  Eighty-seven percent of all U.S. farms are operated by families or individuals. And finally, principal operators were on average 58.3 years old and were predominantly male; second operators were slightly younger and most likely to be female; and third operators were younger still.

We also got a glimpse at a new trend in how farmers sell;  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).

And finally, an indication of the digital world we live in: Farms with Internet access rose from 56.5 percent in 2007 to 69.6 percent in 2012.

This kind of census data is important because it paints a picture of how American agriculture is changing and what the future may look like.  These insights allow the development of new programs and policies that will support an innovative and productive rural America and help the next generation of farmers.