Census Report: Bucking national trend, number of Nebraska farms increases, young producers on the rise
By Robyn Scherer, M.Agr.
A national trend that has worried many farmers for years is the declining number of farms.
However, the exact opposite is true in Nebraska.
The newly released preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture results show that the number of farms increased 4.7 percent to 49,969 from 2007 to 2012.
Nationally, the number of farms decreased by four percent.
“These numbers reflect the optimism that has returned to Nebraska agriculture due to profitability in the sector the past five years. Families are finding ways to bring their sons and daughters back to the farm or ranch,” said Nebraska Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach.
He added, “This could be through the addition of livestock, which allows families to add value to an existing crop base. There is a growing recognition that this type of diversification is important for the expansion of a family operation.”
Not following the national trend, Nebraska also saw a slight decrease in farm operator age from 55.9 years old to 55.7 years old.
The state saw an increase in the number of young farmers, in the under 25 age category, and the biggest jump was in the 25 to 34 years of age category. Nebraska saw an increase of more than 1,000 operators in this category.
“Small farms also are benefitting from increased consumer demand for farm to market products. This provides a good way for young or beginning farmers to get involved in the industry.”
Nebraska saw an increase in female principle, operators, American Indian principle operators, Asian and Black principle operators.
This increased number of farms comes when the average size of the farm is declining, fall from 953 acres to 907 in Nebraska. The amount of land being farmed also fell nearly 148,000 acres to 45.3 million acres.
In 2012, the value of Nebraska agricultural products sold totaled $23.1 billion dollars, up 49 percent from 2007. They remained fourth nationally in value of production. They remained fifth in value of crops sold at $11.4 billion, up from 6.8 billion. Nebraska moved from fifth to fourth in value of livestock sold, up to $11.7 billion from 8.7 billion.
Census numbers are used in many different ways.
“Conducted once every five years by the NASS, the Census is our baseline for the numbers that drive a lot of our other statistics. More importantly, it gives us a snapshot of the agricultural industry in its entirety. It helps other agencies evaluate how their programs have been working, and help them make decisions on how to implement new programs. Agencies outside of USDA also use it to determine how their programs are working and how to direct resources,” said Patrick Boyle, deputy regional director for the National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The census is also used for legislation.
“Federal and local lawmakers use it to demonstrate the need for a program, or how a program has done,” he said.
Census data is also used on a local level.
“Farmers and ranchers can also use the data to compare themselves to an average in their geographic area or their size. The census is the only source of comprehensive county level data, and is important, especially for specialty level commodities that don’t’ get that information as often. It can help them show their importance as well,” he stated.
Doyle added, “I want to thank the farmers and ranchers who took the time to fill out the survey. It’s not always easy to provide the information we ask for, and we want to thank them for their time.”
Nationally, the 2012 Census reported several historic changes in value of sales for agriculture producers in the United States. Key findings include an increase in the value of agricultural products sold in the United States totaling $394.6 billion in 2012, up 33 percent ($97.4 billion) from 2007.
In 2012, crop sales of $212.4 billion exceeded livestock sales of $182.2 billion. This occurred for only the second time in census history; the other time was 1974.
Between 2007 and 2012, per farm average value of sales increased from $134,807 to $187,093, continuing a steady 30-year upward trend. The increase of $52,286 was the largest rise in census history.
The 2012 Census showed principal farm operators are becoming older and more diverse; following the trend of previous censuses. In 2012, the average age of a principal farm operator was 58.3 years, up 1.2 years since 2007, and continuing a 30-year trend of steady increase. The census also accounted for more minority-operated farms in 2012 than in 2007.
The number of farms and land in farms were down slightly, but held steady. In 2012, the United States had 2.1 million farms — down 4.3 percent from the previous census in 2007. In terms of farm size by acres, this continues an overall downward trend in mid-sized farms, while the smallest and largest-size farms held steady.
Between 2007 and 2012, the amount of land in farms in the United States continued a slow downward trend declining from 922 million acres to 915 million. This is only a decline of less than one percent and is the third smallest decline between censuses since 1950.
“The release of the preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture results is only a first look at the data and we are eager to publish the final report this May,” said NASS Administrator Cynthia Clark. “The 2012 Census was not conducted in a typical crop year, and drought had a major impact on U.S. agriculture, affecting crop yields, production and prices. NASS is still reviewing all 2012 Census items to the county level and therefore data are preliminary until published in the final report.”
Conducted since 1840, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. The census tells a story of how American agriculture is changing and lays the groundwork for new programs and policies that will invest in rural America; promote innovation and productivity; build the rural economy; and support our next generation of farmers and ranchers. ❖
For more information about the census, including access to current 2012 Census of Agriculture preliminary report, additional materials and full final report when it is released in May, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov.