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William Wymer (11) checks out the 2019 wheat crop at Kloster Farm in Lincoln County. The land is leased and farmed by John Wagner and his son, Jordan Wagner.
Photo by Diana Kloster

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Agriculture by the numbers

USDA releases census data on the state of farming throughout the U.S.

May 2019

It was a few weeks later than planned, but in mid-April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released the 2017 Census of Agriculture.

The new census spans 6.4 million new points of information about America’s farms and ranches and those who operate them. Information for the census is collected by the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) by surveying farmers and ranchers. The Census of Agriculture is done every five years and includes national, state and county-level statistics.

“The importance of the census and the need for growers to accurately fill out the surveys can’t be underestimated,” said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG). “Many USDA agencies, such as the Farm Service Agency, use census data to develop and administer farm and conservation programs, and lawmakers use the data to help inform policymaking decisions. We know growers are busy, but WAWG encourages them to participate in NASS surveys to the best of their ability.”

According to the 2017 census, the number of farms and the amount of land in farms has declined slightly since the last census in 2012. There also are fewer middle-sized farms with the largest and smallest farm operations growing. Finally, the average age of all farmers and ranchers continues to rise.

“We are pleased to deliver Census of Agriculture results to America, and especially to the farmers and ranchers who participated,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a press release. “We can all use the census to tell the tremendous story of U.S. agriculture and how it is changing. As a data-driven organization, we are eager to dig in to this wealth of information to advance our goals of supporting farmers and ranchers, facilitating rural prosperity and strengthening stewardship of private lands efficiently, effectively and with integrity.”

Some of the national highlights include:

• There are 2.04 million farms and ranches (down 3.2 percent from 2012) with an average size of 441 acres (up 1.6 percent) on 900 million acres (down 1.6 percent).

• Just 105,453 farms produced 75 percent of all sales in 2017, down from 119,908 in 2012.

• Average farm income is $43,053. A total of 43.6 percent of farms had positive net cash farm income in 2017.

• Ninety-six percent of farms and ranches are family owned.

• The average age of all producers is 57.5, up 1.2 years from 2012.

• The number of producers who have served in the military is 370,619, or 11 percent of all. They are older than the average at 67.9.

• There are 321,261 young producers age 35 or less on 240,141 farms. Farms with young producers making decisions tend to be larger than average in both acres and sales.

• One in four producers is a beginning farmer with 10 or fewer years of experience and an average age of 46.3. Farms with new or beginning producers making decisions tend to be smaller than average in both acres and value of production.

• Thirty-six percent of all producers are female and 56 percent of all farms have at least one female decision maker. Farms with female producers making decisions tend to be smaller than average in both acres and value of production.

In Washington state, the number of farm operations dropped to 35,793, a decline of 3.9 percent from 2012. The number of acres in farm operations also declined slightly by just more than 68,000, but the total value of ag land, including buildings, increased by approximately 25.6 percent. The average net farm income in Washington is $47,641, a slight increase over 2012, but operating expenses increased by nearly 8 percent.

The total number of Washington state operations that harvested wheat decreased from 2012 by 365, but the total number of wheat acres harvested increased by just more than 32,000 acres.

To explore the 2017 Census of Agriculture data for yourself, visit their website.