ACH12-3 / May 2014 | PDF Version
3.2 million farmers operated 2.1 million acres that generated food, fuel, and fiber for Americans and people around the world. Who are they?
In 2012, U.S. farmers were older and more diverse than in 2007, the last time the agriculture census was conducted. The total number of farmers declined, with the percentage decline more for women than men. More minorities operated farms in 2012, and the number of beginning farmers declined.
In 2012, 3.2 million farmers operated 2.1 million farms. Like the previous agriculture census, the 2012 Census of Agriculture collected data on up to three operators per farm. Whether counting only principal operators (the person primarily responsible for the day-to-day operation of the farm) or also second and third operators, the number of U.S. farmers declined between 2007 and 2012 going down 4.3 percent in the case of principal operators. (Table 1)
Fourty-four percent of all farms reported having two operators, and 7 percent reported three operators involved in day-to-day decision making. Principal operators differ from second and third operators in a number of ways. They are on average older, more likely to be male, and more likely to consider farming their primary occupation. They work fewer days off the farm than do second and third operators, and in 2012, 78 percent were on their current farm ten or more years. (Table 2)
Two thirds (67 percent) of second operators are women, of whom 90 percent are the spouse of the principal farm operator. Most farm operations report that they are organized as a family or individual operation. Third operators are younger than principal operators and 45 percent were on their current farm less than ten years in 2012.
Of the 2.1 million principal operators in the United States, 288,264 were women (Table 3). This was a 6 percent decrease since 2007 larger than the decrease in male principal operators. But for all female operators (principal, second, and third), the decrease was only 1.6 percent. Women were 14 percent of principal operators but 30 percent of all operators.
Some areas of the country have higher concentrations of women farmers than others. See particularly New England, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington (Fig. 1). In 16 states the number of female principal operators increased; in 34 states, they decreased.
The number of women operating farms with annual sales of $10,000 or more increased in all categories, but 91 percent of farms with female principal operators had less than $50,000 in annual sales (Table 4).
Consistent with a thirty-year trend, farmers average age continued to increase (Fig. 2). For principal operators, average age increased 2 percent between 2007 and 2012. Although second and third operators are younger, their average ages increased 4 and 3 percent respectively (Table 5). Among principal operators, 6 percent are under 35 years old, 61 percent are 35 to 64 years, and 33 percent are 65 and older. The older age groups all increased in number. (Fig. 3)
All categories of minority-operated farms increased between 2007 and 2012 (Fig. 4). Hispanic-operated farms were up 21 percent. Although more than half of all farms had sales of less than $10,000, minority-operated farms (except for Asian operated-farms) fell disproportionately into this group. In 2012, more than a third of Asian principal farmers operated farms with sales of $50,000 or more. (Table 6)
In 2012, 70 percent of farms had Internet access, up from the last agriculture census. For all groups of minority farmers, access was higher in 2012 than 2007, with Black- and Asian-operated farms each having about a twenty percentage point increase. (Fig. 5)
In 2012, the number of new farmers who have been on their current operation less than ten years was down 20 percent from 2007. Nearly 172,000 were on their current operation less than five years; this group was down 23 percent from 2007 (Table 7). Within groups, the proportion of principal operators who were new farmers varied, with Asian principal operators having the largest percentage who had been on their operation less than ten years (42 percent).
The majority of the nation’s 2.1 million farms are small in terms of sales; 75 percent sold less than $50,000 in agricultural products in 2012 and 57 percent had sales less than $10,000. The farm is the place of residence for three fourths of principal operators, but it does not provide the majority of their household income. For 1.5 million farm households, less than 25 percent of household income came from their farm. In 2012, 61 percent worked off the farm at least some days, and 40 percent worked off the farm for 200 or more days.
The Census of Agriculture is the leading source of facts and figures about American agriculture. The 2012 Census results provide information at national, state, and county levels about what agricultural products were raised in the United States in 2012, as well as where, how, and by whom.
To learn more about statistical significance and Census methodology, see frequently asked questions.
For easy-to-use tools that help both professional and casual users find and use the data, go to www.agcensus.usda.gov.
Last Modified: 11/16/2015