USDA releases latest ag census data — Need to grow local and regional food systems

USDA releases latest ag census data

By Michael Fielding on 5/5/2014

In some ways, the highly anticipated release of the final results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture weren’t surprising. The severe drought, record corn, soybean and hay prices, as well as a significant depopulation of the nation’s cattle herd all made 2012 an anomaly in the census (taken every five years).

In other ways, some of the data put into harsh context just how badly the nation’s ag industry has taken a hit. For example, the 8.5 billion broilers sold in the United States in 2012 marked a significant drop of 5 percent from those sold just five years earlier.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) hosted a national webcast Friday announcing the final results of the latest census.

Though the number of farms (defines by NASS as operations that would have produced $1,000 of value of agricultural products during the census year) dropped a slight 4.3 percent to 2.1 million from the 2007 census, it’s remained quite stable over the last two decades, NASS Statistics Division Director Hubert Hamer said.

"The census results reiterate the continued need for policies that help grow the rural economy from the middle out,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a news release. “The census also shows the potential for continued growth in the bioeconomy, organics and local and regional food systems. USDA will continue to focus on innovative, creative policies that give farmers, ranchers and entrepreneurs the tools they need to attract a bright and diverse body of talent to rural America."

NASS reported that 22 percent of all farmers were beginning farmers in 2012 — that means 1 out of every 5 farmers operated a farm for less than 10 years — and that young, beginning principal operators who reported their primary occupation as farming increased to 40,499 from 36,396 between 2007 and 2012. That’s an 11.3 percent increase in the number of young people getting into agriculture as a full-time job.

“Eighty-seven percent of all farms are still family-owned and –operated,” NASS Acting Administrator Joseph Reilly added.

Other highlights:

  • The market value of agricultural products sold was $182.2 billion in 2012 compared to $153.6 billion in 2007 — an 18.7 percent increase.
  • Regarding sales by livestock commodity, cattle product sales were up 21 percent from 2007.