Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues
The number of farms keeps going down and the average age of principal operators continues to rise, but more farms are using technology and renewable sources, according to the Department of Agriculture's quintennial Census of Agriculture, which consists of 6,000,000 pieces of data on the national, state and county level collected in 2012 and rolled out Friday.
There were nearly 100,000 fewer farms in 2012 than in 2007, with the number of farms dropping 4.3 percent from 2,204,792 to 2,109,303. Despite that decrease, farmers (mostly small ones) who sell directly to consumers rose from 136,817 to 144,530, an increase of 5.6 percent. The value of all agricultural sales rose from $292.2 billion to $394.6 billion, an increase of 32.8 percent.
The average age of farmers rose from 2007 to 2012 from 57.1 years to 58.3 years, and is up from 50.5 years in 1982. But farmers have gotten more connected to technology. Internet use has increased from 56.5 percent of farms in 2007 to 69.6 percent in 2012, although 10 percent of farmers were still using dial-up. The number of farms using renewable energy has more than doubled from 2007 to 2012, up from 23,451 farms to 57,299 farms. Organic product sales also increased 82 percent from 2007 to 2012, from from $1.76 billion to $3.1 billion in 2012.
"The census results reiterate the continued need for policies that help grow the rural economy from the middle out," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a press release."The census also shows the potential for continued growth in the bioeconomy, organics, and local and regional food systems." (Read more)
Read the full report by clicking here. A preliminary report was released in February, and reports in March had information on minority farmers and the age of farmers. A report on Puerto Rico will be released in June, followed by reports in December on specialty crops and specialty crops in Puerto Rico.