Every five years, USDA releases its Census of Agriculture. Though the data is two years old by the time the report is released, it can provide insights on trends in U.S. agriculture.
The big-picture news coming out of the 2007 Census of Agriculture is that the number of farms in the U.S. is growing and they are becoming more diverse. USDA’s National Ag Statistics Service released the report in February.
The National Numbers
The 2007 Census counted 2,204,792 farms in the U.S., a net increase of 75,810 farms. Nearly 300,000 new farms have begun operation since the last census in 2002. Compared to all farms nationwide, these new farms tend to have more diversified production, fewer acres, lower sales, and younger operators who also work off-farm.
In the past five years, U.S. farm operators have become more demographically diverse. The 2007 Census counted nearly 30% more women as principal farm operators. The count of Hispanic operators grew by 10%, and the counts of Indian, Asian, and African American farm operators increased as well.
The latest census figures show a continuation in the trend toward more small and very large farms and fewer mid-sized operations. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of farms with sales of less than $2,500 increased by 74,000. The number of farms with sales of more than $500,000 grew by 46,000 during the same period.
Census results show that the majority of U.S. farms are smaller operations. More than 36% are classified as residential/lifestyle farms, with sales of less than $250,000 and operators with a primary occupation other than farming. Another 21% are retirement farms, which have sales of less than $250,000 and operators who reported they are retired.
The 2007 Census found that 57% of all farmers have Internet access, up from 50% in 2002. For the first time in 2007, the census also looked at high-speed Internet access. Of those producers accessing the Internet, 58% reported having a high-speed connection.
According to the census, the number of Florida farms increased by 7.7%, from 44,081 in 2002 to 47,463 in 2007. Additionally, the market value of agricultural products sold by Florida farmers hit $7.8 billion in 2007, the highest recorded level in the state’s history.
The report also reflects the changing face of agriculture in Florida, with increases in the number of farms owned by a variety of ethnic groups including Native Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and African Americans. Ethnic ownership of farms increased by 26%, from 2,038 farms in 2002 to 2,582 farms in 2007.
Augmenting the results of the USDA Census is the University of Florida’s report, “Economic Contributions of Agricultural, Food Manufacturing, and Natural Resource Industries in Florida in 2006,” which indicates that more than 766,000 jobs are attributable to these sectors, up from 648,000 jobs in 2002. Additionally, these sectors generate an estimated $100 billion overall economic impact and contribute $2.98 billion in indirect taxes to local, county, and state governments.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson says the impressive performance by the state’s agricultural industry shows that it remains a vital pillar of Florida’s economy.
“For decades, this economic engine has provided Florida with a dependable source of revenue and jobs,” Bronson says. “While other sectors of the economy have been on shaky ground lately, agriculture has strengthened and become more productive.”
While the USDA report indicates an overall expansion of Florida agriculture, it also raises some points of concern. “Farmers’ net earnings, or income, declined significantly for the last three years surveyed,” says Bronson. “This means that our farmers are working harder for less return, due in part to increases in the cost of inputs such as fuel, electricity, seed, and fertilizer.” The USDA Census showed that net earnings declined from 40% in 2005, to 29.8% in 2006, to 22.1% in 2007.