US farm populations continue to decline
Wednesday, May 01, 2019
The 2017 Census of Agriculture, released in early April 2019, shows that the amount of total land devoted to agricultural use continues to decline in the U.S. and the number of farms is declining.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there were 2.04 million farms and ranches in the U.S. in 2017, down more than 3% from 2012. The agency went on to say that the amount of land devoted to agriculture declined by nearly 2% to 900.2 million acres from 914.5 million acres in 2012.
The report shows that the average size of farms in 2017 was 441 acres, up from 434 acres in the 2012 census, and that 96% of farms and ranches in the nation are family owned. Likewise, the government numbers show that there were about 273,000 small farms of one to nine acres, representing 0.1% of all farmland in the U.S. Large farms — 85,127 — of 2,000 or more acres made up about 60% of total farmland.
There were 76,865 farms making $1 million or above in 2017. However, on the other end of the spectrum, 1.56 million operations generated less than $50,000. Out of the total value of farm production totaling about $389 billion in 2017, two-thirds of it came from farms making $1 million or more.
The average age of farmers also is ticking up, to 58.7 from 57.5 in 2012; 36% of whom are women.
Dairy farm populations continue to shrink, too. In March 2019, the USDA reported that licensed dairy farm numbers in the U.S. declined by 2,731 farms, a drop of 6.8%. There was a total of 37,468 licensed dairy farms in the country, down from 40,199 in 2018.
Wisconsin, the leading dairy producer in the U.S., saw the most farm losses, followed by Pennsylvania. Wisconsin saw 590 farms close in 2018, a 6.5% decline, even though the state did not see much of a decline in total cattle: there were 1,270,000 cows, down 5,000 heads from a year before.
Pennsylvania, the No. 2 dairy state, lost 370 farms in 2018, down 5.6%. The number of cattle heads dropped substantially, losing about 25,000 for the year, or nearly 5%.
Michigan experienced a 13% decline in the number of farms lost, which is a substantial loss. No states saw farm numbers increase, but 12 states did report dairy farm numbers remained unchanged: Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
In a long-established trend, the number of farms is declining at a slightly higher rate than the acres being farmed are. So, there are fewer farms, but the farms that remain get bigger.
However, according to 2016 data released by the USDA, individual farms are seeing an increase in size on average because acreage isn’t disappearing as quickly as farms are.
Farms that earn between $500,000 and $1 million saw a 0.6% decrease in the number of farms, even as acreage used for farming increased slightly. In contrast, the largest group of farms, those earning more than $1 million annually, saw acreage decrease faster than the number of farms declined.
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