A numbers game NASS releases 2022 Census of Agriculture survey results

By Trista Crossley


Back in February, the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the mother of all agricultural surveys, the 2022 Census of Agriculture. Decision-makers will use that data to help set farm policy and allocate money across the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and other federal agencies.

“The census of agriculture is conducted once every five years,” explained Dennis Koong, regional director of NASS’s Washington state field office. “It really gives us the ability to look at trends over time and get a comprehensive look at various aspects of the agriculture industry. There are millions of data points.”

The 2022 census showed that the number of farms in Washington and the amount of land in those farms continues to decline. The number of farms in Washington in 2022 was 32,076, a 10% decrease from the 2017 Census of Agriculture. Land in farms was 13.9 million acres, down almost 6% from 2017. The average age of Washington farmers continues to increase. In 2022, the average age was 59.3 years, up from 58.1 in 2017 and 56.8 in 2012.

Koong highlighted several Washington state-specific tidbits from the census. Grant County, in terms of the total value of agricultural production, was the No. 10 county in the entire U.S. The top nine counties are all in California. 

“There’s a lot of diversity in that county,” he said. “Yakima County is close with all their fruit production.”

Another interesting fact that shows up in the data is that out of the 32,076 farms in Washington, almost 14,000 of them have less than $2,500 in sales. Farms with $1 million or more in sales account for 13% of the farms in the state, Koong said. Washington’s total value of agricultural production is about $12.8 billion. Farms with $5 million or more in sales account for almost $7.7 billion of that. Farms that are between $1 million and $5 million in sales account for another $3.3 billion. When you add up those top two size groups, economically, they account for 96% of the state’s value of production.

“It really means that a small number of farms account for a large percentage of the value of Washington’s production,” Koong explained. “When you are looking at the big economic impact, it’s really coming from only 13% of the farms accounting for 96% of the production.”

Focusing on wheat, the 2022 Census of Agriculture showed that 2,505 Washington farms produced wheat, down ever so slightly from 2017, which showed 2,506 farms. But harvested acres were up from 2.2 million in 2017 to 2.4 million in 2022. Whitman County had the highest number of acres harvested for grain at 498,473 acres, which was 21% of the state total. In 2017, Whitman County accounted for 24% of the state total in terms of harvested acres. Lincoln County was next highest county for acres harvested for grain at 367,986. 

“The value of wheat sales in Whitman County in the 2022 census was $337 million. That was up from $167 million five years ago in 2017. The interesting part about that is Whitman County is the No. 1 county in the U.S. for value of wheat sales. Second in wheat sales in dollars was Polk County in Minnesota, and they had just under $178 million in sales. Lincoln County (in Washington) was actually 4th in the U.S. with $156 million,” Koong said. “Whitman County isn’t just barely No. 1 in the U.S. It’s by quite a bit.”

Other Washington facts from the 2022 Census of Agriculture include:

  • Washington farms with internet access continued to rise from 84% in 2017 to 86% in 2022.
  • A total of 2,645 Washington farms and ranches used renewable energy-producing systems compared to 2,215 farms in 2017, a 19% increase. Of the Washington farms with renewable energy systems, 88% reported using solar panels.
  • In 2022, 3,564 Washington farms sold directly to consumers, with sales of $98.7 million. Value of sales increased 44% from 2017.
  • There were 17,355 Washington farmers with 10 or fewer years of experience, an increase in the number of beginning farmers from 2017 of 1%. Beginning farmers in Washington are younger than all farmers, with an average age of 48.1.
  • The number of Washington producers under age 35 was 3,930, comprising 7% of all Washington producers. The 2,998 Washington farms with young producers making decisions tend to be larger than average in both acres and sales.
  • In 2022, 25,477 female producers accounted for 42% of all Washington producers. Seventy-one percent of all Washington farms had at least one female decision maker.

For more on the 2022 Census of Agriculture, visit nass.usda.gov/agcensus/.

Agriculture Resource Management Survey (ARMS)

NASS is in the final stages of gathering financial information about the 2023 crop. The ARMS measures the financial well-being of producers and their households by collecting detailed information on revenue, expenses, debts, and assets. The sensitivity of the information can sometimes trouble farmers, but Koong emphasizes that the data is kept anonymous and is not shared.

“This information is secure and confidential by law,” he said. “NASS can’t even share it with any other federal agency. So we don’t share this information with the Farm Service Agency. We don’t share it with the Natural Resources Conservation Service. We don’t share it with any government organizations outside of USDA, either. The Internal Revenue Service has no access to this information. It is completely protected within NASS.”

Only aggregate totals are published, so if there’s data that might disclose information about an individual operation, the data is not published, Koong explained. The data is used to help make policy decisions that will directly affect farmers. It is also used to inform the farm sector portion of the national gross domestic product. The data will be published in the annual Farm Production Expenditures report in July.

“This survey provides factual information that tells the story of U.S. agriculture as a whole from an economic standpoint and allows policymakers to make better informed decisions from actual data that is reported by farms in the U.S.,” Koong said.