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2007 Ag Census!

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Feb 04, 2009 at 11:39:25 AM PST


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Yes! Yesss!!!! The 2007 Ag Census was published today and for geeks like me, it feels a little like Christmas. Or at least how I imagine Christmas must feel since I wasn't raised celebrating it.

Here are a few statistics we have now available to us about the state of farms in the U.S. over the past several decades.

UPDATE: Apparently I'm not the only one geeking out on all this great data. See another summary of the 2007 report here. And here is what the NY Times had to say about it.

Jill Richardson :: 2007 Ag Census!
Number of Farms
Year: Number of Farms (% Change from Previous Census)
1950: 5,382,162
1964: 3,157,857 (-41.3%)
1969: 2,730,250 (-13.5%)
1974: 2,314,013 (-15.2%)
1978: 2,257,775 (-2.4%)
1982: 2,240,976 (-0.7%)
1987: 2,087,759 (-6.8%)
1992: 1,925.300 (-7.8%)
1997: 1,911,859 (-0.7%)

The following numbers were adjusted to account for farmers that either weren't on the Census Mailing List or did not respond.
1997: 2,215,876
2002: 2,128,982 (-3.9%)
2007: 2,204,792 (+3.6%)

Size of New Farms
In 2007, 75,810 net new farms since 2002. Here's the change in number of farms of each size category during those 5 years:

1-9 Acres: +53503
10-49 Acres: +56511
50-179 Acres: +1825
180-499 Acres: -20249
500-999 Acres: -11839
1000-1999 Acres: -6362
2000+ Acres: +2423

Size of Farms (as a percent of total farms)
*Adj stands for "Adjusted for Coverage" - i.e. adjusted to account for farmers that either weren't on the Census Mailing List or did not respond.

Date1-9 Acres10-49 acres50-179 acres180-499 Acres500-999 Acres1000-1999 Acres2000+ Acres
19645.8%20.2%37.2%25.5%6.7%2.7%1.9%
19695.9%17.3%36.7%26.6%7.9%3.3%2.2%
19745.5%16.4%35.8%26.6%9.0%4.0%2.7%
19786.7%17.3%33.6%25.8%9.4%4.3%2.8%
19828.4%20.0%31.8%23.5%9.1%4.3%2.9%
19878.8%19.8%30.9%22.9%9.6%4.9%3.2%
19928.6%20.1%30.3%22.2%9.7%5.3%3.7%
19978.0%21.5%31.0%21.1%9.2%5.3%3.9%
1997-adj9.3%24.0%31.3%19.3%8.1%4.6%3.4%
2002-adj8.4%26.5%30.9%18.3%7.6%4.7%3.7%
2007-adj10.6%28.1%30.0%16.7%6.8%4.2%3.6%

Based on this, it appears that over time the small farms can survive - although often because the farmers there have other jobs or they are already retired - and it's the farms between 50-999 acres that are thinning out.

More Info
A profile of farms 1-9 acres
A profile of farms 10-49 acres
A profile of farms 1000-1999 acres
A profile of farms with 2000 or more acres
Who is Growing What (By Farm Size)
Who Grows What Where?
Who Gets All the Subsidy Money

Size of Farms (Number of Farms)
Date1-9 Acres10-49 acres50-179 acres180-499 Acres500-999 Acres1000-1999 Acres2000+ Acres
196418258163743411753708067432104378499960293
196916211147346510017067263632156599103959907
19741282543795438278846160982072979271262225
19781512333915547590475816312132099780063301
19821876654492527116525265102039259739564577
198718325741243764484947829420005810207866786
199216649638771158414642764818638710192370989
199715351541083359297240276917569010146874612
1997-adj20539053090269448942821517944710300774426
2002-adj1793465637726587053886171615529902077970
2007-adj2328496202836605303683681497139265880393

As you can see here, over time the absolute number of farms with 1-9 acres has fluctuated but ultimately increased. Farms 10-49 acres dipped, reaching a low in 1992 and then increased again - nearly equaling the number of farms that size in 1964 now. But look at farms 50-179 acres! Even though the number of farms of that size increased in the last 5 years, since the '60s there's been more than a 40% decline. It seems that once upon a time, one could make a living from a 50-179 acre farm. Farms 180-999 acres have also seen a consistent decline.

Now how about the farms 2000+ acres? Those have INCREASED by 1/3 since 1964. And the size in between - 1000-1999 acres? They saw a nearly 20% increase between 1964 and 1997 and then their numbers began to fall. Can it be that now even 1000-1999 acres is too small to make a living on (and too big to allow the farmer to hold down an off-the-farm job)?

Percent of Farmers Whose Principle Occupation is Farming
1-9 acres: 32.7%
10-49 acres: 32.1%
50-69 acres: 35.9%
70-99 acres: 37.9%
100-139 acres: 41.1%
140-179 acres: 43.8%
180-219 acres: 48.6%
220-259 acres: 51.9%
260-499 acres: 59.1%
500-999 acres: 72.5%
1000-1999 acres: 82.1%
2000+ acres: 86.2%

Percent of Farms with Net Gains
1-9 acres: 29.1%
10-49 acres: 31.2%
50-69 acres: 39.8%
70-99 acres: 45.1%
100-139 acres: 47.0%
140-179 acres: 53.1%
180-219 acres: 55.2%
220-259 acres: 59.4%
260-499 acres: 65.5%
500-999 acres: 72.8%
1000-1999 acres: 78.0%
2000+ acres: 77.2%

Percent of Farms Getting Government Cash
Farm Size% Getting $Avg. Payout% of Total Govt Payouts Farms of This Size Received
All Sizes38.0%$9522.91N/A
1-9 acres5.6%$1591.880.3%
10-49 acres18.5%$1610.992.3%
50-69 acres29.2%$2140.841.2%
70-99 acres37.2%$2513.982.3%
100-139 acres39.1%$2936.442.5%
140-179 acres49.5%$3692.213.2%
180-219 acres49.7%$4211.832.3%
220-259 acres55.8%$4881.012.3%
260-499 acres63.2%$6950.5111.7%
500-999 acres73.3%$12,904.8817.7%
1000-1999 acres78.4%$24,166.5322.0%
2000+ acres72.8%$43,981.3532.2%

As you can see here, over half of all government subsidy money goes to farms over 1000 acres - even though farms of that size make up only 7.8% of all farms.

Direct Sales to Consumers By Farms

Size% Selling DirectlyAvg Direct Sales Per Farm*
All Sizes6.2%$8,853.21
1-9 acres12.6%$3,131.02
10-49 acres7.9%$5,209.40
50-69 acres6.4%$8,250.03
70-99 acres5.6%$9,243.28
100-139 acres5.4%$11,002.87
140-179 acres4.3%$9,828.93
180-219 acres4.4%$15,061.89
220-259 acres4.1%$15,428.72
260-499 acres3.6%$21,531.36
500-999 acres2.8%$25,930.25
1000-1999 acres2.3%$30,598.30
2000+ acres2.1%$29,855.67

*This shows the average direct sales made per farm that sells directly to consumers.

As you can see, small farmers are much more likely to engage in direct sales than large farms.

People in U.S. Population Per Farm
How many people does each farm feed?
(U.S. population divided by # of U.S. farms)

1950: 28
1964: 61
1969: 74
1974: 92
1978: 99
1982: 103
1987: 116
1992: 132
1997: 140
1997-adj: 121
2002-adj: 132
2007-adj: 137

How many acres of farmland per person?
How many acres of U.S. farmland does it take to feed each American person? The decline might be due to high yields, or may be due to an increase in net imports, I'm not sure.

1964: 5.8
1969: 5.2
1974: 4.8
1978: 4.6
1982: 4.3
1987: 4.0
1992: 3.7
1997: 3.5
1997-adj: 3.6
2002-adj: 3.3
2007-adj: 3.1

More Ag Census Fun from Ken Meter
The following numbers and facts came from Ken Meter and the Crossroads Resource Center.

*Direct Sales From Farmers to Consumers Rose 30% Between 2002 and 2007

Data released today by the USDA Agricultural Census show that direct food sales (sold by farmers directly to household consumers) rose 49% to $1.2 billion in 2007 from $812 million in 2002.  Once adjusted for inflation, the increase is slightly lower, 30%.

The number of farms selling direct also increased from 116,733 to 136,817 over the same period, a gain of 17%.

(This is hardly surprising as the numbers of farmers markets have increased from 3137 in 2002 to 4385 in 2006, to 4685 in 2008. Still - it's great news!)

Direct sales of food make up a very small share of farm commodity sales, totaling only 0.4% of the $300 billion of farm sales in 2007.

This may be the case, but according to the USDA Report on Supply Chain and Food Marketing 2008, a recent national survey showed that 2% of consumers say that farmers markets are their primary shopping venue.

Direct sales have been strongest in New England, New York, California, the Pacific Northwest, and near major metro areas such as Denver, Minneapolis, Madison, Chicago, and Atlanta.

This fits with other data, such as this table from USDA AMS 2007:

States with the Most Farmers Markets

  1. California
  2. New York
  3. Iowa
  4. Illinois
  5. Pennsylvania
  6. Wisconsin
  7. Michigan
  8. Massachusetts
  9. Ohio
 10. Kentucky

*Fruits and Vegetable Sales Rise

Sales of fruits totaled $18.6 billion for the U.S. in 2007, up 35% from five years before, while vegetable sales rose 15% to $14.7 billion.  The number of farms selling fruit rose 5% to 112,690, while 69,100 farms sold vegetables, an increase of 17%.

Fruit sales by 107,707 American farms totaled $13.8 billion in 2002. This amounts to nearly half of the amount needed to fill the nation¹s household $30 billion consumer market, though much of these fruit was sold to processors, distributed to institutions, or exported.  In the 1997 Census, 93,784 farms reported sales of $12.8 billion of fruits for household use, processing, and export.

Vegetable sales totaled $12.8 billion from 59,044 farms in 2002.  The nation¹s household consumer market for fresh and frozen vegetables is about $26 billion.  Sales of vegetables were not recorded by the farm census in 1997.

You can also check out my reports on US Fruit Consumption and US Vegetable Consumption for more information.

*Organic Sales Nearly Triple!

Organic food sales more than tripled, to $1.7 billion in 2007 from $393 million in 2002, according to new data released today by USDA's Agriculture Census.  This is an increase of 335%, though it lowers to 281% once inflation is taken into account.

According to Meter:

"Until the recent downturn, organic food sales were rising 16% per year for several years in a row."  Many of these organic products, however, are imported from outside the U.S., as industrial producers open new lands.

Organic sales are still a relatively small share of total U.S. farm commodity sales, which totaled $297 billion in 2007.  Overall farm sales rose 48% over the previous farm census in 2002.

In other words, organics may be a small percent of farm sales overall, but they are growing at several times the rate of overall farm sales.

*Farm Sales Increase 30%

Farm commodity sales rose to $297 billion in 2007, 48% higher than the $200 billion of sales in 2002, according to new data released today by USDA¹s Agriculture Census.  Once inflation is factored in, however, the sales increase totaled only 30%.

What led to the increase? Higher commodity prices, for one. Unfortunately, production costs are going up too (can anyone say "peak oil"?)

USDA estimates that both fertilizer costs and fuel costs have nearly doubled in the past five years.

Still, farmers earned $56 billion more from marketing commodities in 2007 than it cost to produce them, according to the census, and earned a net cash income of $75 billion.  Comparable USDA figures for 2002 were a $48 billion production surplus and $41 billion of net farm income.

USDAs Economic Research Service estimates that farm income in 2008 was similar to 2007 levels.  Yet agency economists predict that farm income "may well be lower in 2009."

The number of farms in America increased 4% to 2,204,792.  In 1997, 2.2 million farms sold $201 billion of commodities, worth $257 billion when adjusted for inflation.

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2007 Ag Census! | 2 comments
census (4.00 / 1)
Thanks for the link to my post! I'm happy there are other people so excited about the ag census, =).

Likewise! (0.00 / 0)
Besides, it's so much data, it's far more than any one person can digest. Good thing there are a few of us working away at it.

"I can understand someone from Iowa promoting corn and soy, but we are not feeding the world, we are feeding animals and soft drink companies." - Jim Goodman

[ Parent ]
2007 Ag Census! | 2 comments
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