NFU: New ag census provides better picture of family farm agriculture
National Farmers Union
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture, the most complete set of data for American agriculture available.
The census, taken every five years, provides an abundance of information about land use, farm ownership and decision-making, demographics, production practices, income and expenditures.
Highlighting improvements in the census’ methodology, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the data paint an excellent picture of farmer demographics and ag consolidation. It also provides a glimpse into the financial stress facing American farm families.
“This ag census made some major leaps for capturing better demographic information in addition to the wide variety of production practices and overall financial health of those involved in family farm agriculture,” Johnson said. “This is important to federal, state and local policymakers, as well as farmers and ranchers. The data will inform farm policy, rural policy and long-term decisions made over the next five years.”
Johnson noted that this was the first year that farmers were able to list multiple principals involved with making business decisions. The total number of female producers rose by 27 percent to 1.23 million. “By allowing for multiple principal operators, this census does a much better job recognizing the important role that women play in running a family farm operation,” he said.
Johnson also touted new figures on the rise of direct-marketed and value-added farm products, as well as on-farm renewable energy production, which more than doubled over the past five years. “Farmers are finding new ways to create value on the farm, maximizing the farmer’s share of the food dollar and converting farm products to renewable energy sources,” he said.
Johnson said that, on the flip side, troubling trends from recent USDA censuses continue into 2017, namely an increase in the average age of the American farmer to 57.5 years old, a 3 percent decrease in total farms and ranches to just over 2 million, and continued consolidation of agricultural land.
“We’ve got older farmers, fewer farms and fewer farm families on the land. None of that is positive for American agriculture or our rural communities,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the most striking figure from the census was that more than 56 percent of all American farms and ranches had negative net cash farm income in 2017.
“Significant financial stress is weighing on American agriculture,” said Johnson. “The economic decline over the last five years is forcing many farmers out of business, continuing the trends of farm consolidation and rural economic degeneration we’ve seen for many years.”
Johnson said the data captured by the ag census will be valuable for policymakers crafting new rules and legislation around agriculture, food and rural policy.
“We’re grateful to the farm and ranch families who put in the time to filling out the 2017 Census of Agriculture and thereby giving a voice to their operations and their communities,” said Johnson. “National Farmers Union will use the data to better advocate federal level policies that keep farm families in production agriculture and ensure the vibrancy of rural America into the future. ❖
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