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Census Finds Changes in Farms, Farmers and Production Practices

Podcast / Newsline April 16, 2019

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The 2017 Census of Agriculture released last week shows changes to farm sizes, operators and farming practices. Micheal Clements has more.

Clements: According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the total number of U.S. farms fell 3.2 percent while the average farm size increased 1.6 percent since 2012. Michael Nepveux, American Farm Bureau Federation economist, says the new data also shows farmers are getting older.

Nepveux: The average age of that principal operator continues to increase. The 2012 census reported that to be 58.3 years. For the 2017 census, that increased to 59.4 years for that average.

Clements: The 2017 census reported a 30 percent increase in the number of female farmers, and an increase in younger farmers. However, Nepveux says that’s partially because USDA changed how that data is reported.

Nepveux: In the past, they tended to focus on just the principal operator, whereas now they expanded that to include other decision makers. So that doesn’t necessarily mean that we have 30 percent more women farming than we did say five years ago. Also, you saw an increase in the number of younger farmers as a result of this. This is due to those intergenerational farms where you have the parents and children operating as business partners on the farm.

Clements: Nepveux says the 2017 census also shows changes in farming practices, as farmers are implementing more environmentally friendly production practices.

Nepveux: For the 2012 census, conventional tillage was the largest category, but in the new census that came out, no-till agriculture rose to the top followed by conservational tillage, and then that conventional tillage was actually the lowest category.

Clements: Micheal Clements, Washington.

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