By Ben Husch
In April, the USDA released its 2017 Agriculture Census highlighting some major changes in the agriculture industry. The survey is conducted every five years, with this issue covering 2012-2017.
Additionally, the 2017 census allowed individual farms to list multiple people as farmers, if they were all involved in decision making, which resulted in a 7% increase in the number of producers, even though the number of farms declined by 3.2%. The USDA defines a farm as a business with sales of $1,000 or more. Further, the average age of producers rose by 1.2 years to 57.5 years old. Male producers declined 1.2%, but female producers increased 27%, likely the result of the change in methodology.
Large farms, consisting of more than 2,000 acres make up 58% of farmland with the average farm income at $43,053. Farms with internet access rose to 75.4%. Additionally, land planted with cover crops rose to 15.3 million acres, helping to reduce soil erosion, improve soil quality and maintain biodiversity. Renewable energy production more than doubled on farms, from 57,299 farms to 133,176, with more operations building solar panels and wind turbines and installing methane digesters.
Finally, more than 95% of producers are white, 3% are Hispanic and 1.7% are Native Americans or Native Alaskans, the overall demographic figures show. African Americans accounted for 1.3% of producers, while Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders each accounted for less than 1%.
For more information on agriculture and rural development, see NCSL’s research.
Ben Husch is senior committee director of NCSL's Natural Resources and Infrastructure Committee.