WASHINGTON, May 2, 2014 – USDA’s detailed 2012 Census of Agriculture, released Friday afternoon, provides even more evidence of the consolidation of U.S. agriculture – a small percentage of large farms delivering most of the production and a slowly declining number of small and mid-size operations.

The 695-page report shows that 33,330 farms and ranches – or 1.6 percent of the total 2.1 million – accounted for half of farm product sales in 2012.

The breakdown in farm size led Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to say essentially what he had said five years ago with the release of the 2007 Census – that USDA needs to concentrate on helping mid-size operations compete. His prepared statement today talks of “the continued need for policies that help grow the rural economy from the middle out.” He also sees in the data “the potential for continued growth in the bioeconomy, organics, and local and regional food systems.”

New data in the report – more detailed than that released in summary form at the USDA Agricultural Outlook Forum in February – also details the continued decline in the number of livestock operations. For example, the 740,978 beef cattle operations were down from 798,290 five years earlier. Hog-raising operations declined from 75,442 in 2007 to 63,246 in 2012. It’s noteworthy that in both years, about two-thirds of hog operations had less than 25 head. While total swine operations declined, those with 5,000 head or more grew from 2,850 to 3,006 and accounted for two-thirds of the inventory.

Dairy farms have followed a similar pattern, with 64,098 operations with at least one milk cow in 2012. Of those, the 1,807 farms with upwards of 1,000 milk cows accounted for 46 percent of the national milking herd.

Vilsack’s statement also highlighted that 22 percent of all operators were beginning farmers in 2012 – having been in business for less than 10 years – and the 11.3 percent increase in the number of those who reported their primary occupation was farming. Other facts the statement noted: 969,672 farm operators were female, 30 percent of all farm operators in the U.S.; the number of farms with Latino operators was up 21 percent; nearly 150,000 farmers and ranchers are selling directly to consumers and 50,000 are selling to local retailers.

The census also pointed out that total organic product sales by farms increased 82 percent since 2007, from $1.76 billion in 2007 to $3.1 billion in 2012. That amounts to 0.8 percent of the $394.6 billion value of nationwide agricultural production in 2012.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), which conducts the census every five years, noted that the report includes more than 6 million pieces of information with details at national, state and county levels. Other facts NASS highlighted:

-Both sales and production expenses reached records in 2012.

-Three quarters of all farms had sales of less than $50,000, producing only 3 percent of the total value of farm products sold.

-California led the nation with nine of the ten top counties for value of sales.

-The top five states for agricultural sales were California ($42.6 billion); Iowa ($30.8 billion); Texas ($25.4 billion); Nebraska ($23.1 billion); and Minnesota ($21.3 billion).

-some 87 percent of all U.S. farms are operated by families or individuals.

-Principal operators were on average 58.3 years old and were predominantly male; second operators were slightly younger and most likely to be female.

-Minority-operated farms increased; Hispanic-operated farms had a significant 21 percent increase.

-Farms with Internet access rose from 56.5 percent in 2007 to 69.6 percent in 2012.

-Corn and soybean acres topped 50 percent of all harvested acres for the first time.


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