Want to know how many farms there are in the U.S.? Curious about American farmers’ average income? What’s the average age of an American farmer? You can find these answers and much more, thanks to the latest U.S. Census of Agriculture, whose roots date back to the presidential administration of Martin Van Buren.
“We can all use the Census to tell the tremendous story of U.S. agriculture and how it is changing,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture (USDA) Sonny Perdue in a statement.
The Census of Agriculture was first conducted in 1840 (six years before Iowa became a state), in conjunction with the regular Census, which is conducted every 10 years. The Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. It also reflects the evolution of American agriculture and records many important parts of American history, noted the USDA.
The history contained in the Census data offers many revealing glimpses into the growth of Iowa agriculture. The 1900 Census of Agriculture, for example, noted that while Iowa led the Corn Belt in top corn yields, at 39.1 bushels per acre, two northeastern states achieved even higher corn yields.
New Hampshire and Connecticut produced 42.1 and 43.0 bushels per acre, respectively.
“Neither of these is a great corn-producing state, and the high average yields were the results of intensive cultivation of small areas of selected ground,” noted the Census.
The 1925 Census of Agriculture showed that traditional horsepower was alive and well in Iowa, since there were more than 1.8 million horses on Iowa farms, along with more than 96,000 mules.
Pork production had become a major sector of Iowa agriculture, with more than 8.5 million hogs on Iowa farms.
Data from the Census of Agriculture also makes it fairly simple to track changes through time. The 1964 Census, for example, showed that there were 154,162 farms in Iowa in 1964, reflecting a drop of nearly 30 percent from the 214,928 farms in Iowa in 1930.
Offering insights for the future
The Census of Agriculture was taken every 10 years from 1840 to 1920. After 1920, the data was collected every four to five years. By 1982, it was regularly conducted once every five years. Through the years, the types of information collected have also expanded to include data on cover crop acres, aquaculture, organic production and more.
Today, USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) sends questionnaires to nearly 3 million potential U.S. farms and ranches. Nearly 25 percent of those who responded to the latest Census did so online.
The Census of Agriculture remains the only source of comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation, noted USDA.
Results from the 2017 Census of Agriculture, which were released this year, included roughly 6.4 million new points of information about America’s farms and ranches and those who operate them. These new insights include data about on-farm decision making, down to the county level.
Information collected by NASS directly from farmers and ranchers shows that both farm numbers and land in farms have experienced ongoing, small percentage declines since the last Census in 2012. At the same time, there continue to be more of the largest and smallest operations, but fewer middle-sized farms.
The average age of all farmers and ranchers continues to rise. The average age of all producers today is 57.5, up 1.2 years from 2012. Compare this to 1987, when the average age of an Iowa farmer was 49.3.
“The Census shows new data that can be compared to previous censuses for insights into agricultural trends and changes down to the county level,” said NASS Administrator Hubert Hamer. “While the current picture shows a consistent trend in the structure of U.S. agriculture, there are some ups and downs since the last Census, as well as first-time data on topics such as military status and on-farm decision making.”
Both the historical records and the latest Census of Agriculture data can offer invaluable insights for the future, Perdue noted. “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.”
Find more Census of Agriculture data online at www.nass.usda.gov/AgCensus.