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2012 Census Highlights


Beginning Farmers - Characteristics of Farmers by Years on Current Farm

ACH12-5 / June 2014    |   PDF Version

25 percent of 2.1 million U.S. farmers in 2012 were beginning farmers.

In 2012, the United States had 522,058 beginning farmers (principal operators who were on their current operation ten years or less). This was 20 percent fewer than in 2007, when the last agriculture census was conducted. Nevertheless, in 2012, beginning farmers operated one fourth of the 2.1 million U.S. farms.

This document summarizes the characteristics of beginning and established farmers and the farms they operate. It considers beginning farmers in two groupings – principal farm operators who were on their current operation five years or less at the end of 2012 (i.e, they started on their current farm in the years 2008 through 2012) and those who were on their current operation six to ten years (they started on their current farm in the years 2003 through 2007). Established farmers are those who were on their current operation eleven years or more.

Beginning Farmer Characteristics


Of total beginning farmers in the 2012 Census of Agriculture, 226,670 were on their current farm five years or less, and 295,388 were on their current farm six to ten years. (Table 1)

Table 1 - Beginning Farmers, 2007 and 2012

Beginning farmers were, on average, younger than more established farmers. Of established farmers, 40 percent were 65 years or older; among farmers operating their current farm five years or less, only 11 percent were 65 or older. The average age was 46.9 years for those on their current farm five years or less, 50.8 years for those on their current farms six to ten years, and 61.4 years for established farmers.

Beginning farmers were also more likely to be female than established farmers, more likely to be minority, more likely to spend some time working off the farm, and less likely to consider farming their primary occupation. (Table 2)

Table 1 - Principal Operator Characteristics by Years on Current Farm, 2012

Average Farm by Years on Farm


On average, farmers on their operations five years or less, as well as six to ten years, had smaller farms than established farmers in both agriculture sales and acres of farmland. A smaller percentage experienced a net gain from their operation. They had higher average expense-to-sales ratios and received less in government payments than established farmers. (Table 3)

Average Farm, by Years Principal Operator on Current Farm, 2012

Beginning farmers operated 25 percent of U.S. farms, controlled 16 percent of farmland, and produced 15 percent of the value of agricultural products sold. They accounted for 22 percent of products sold directly to consumers and 26 percent of the value of organic sales. (Table 4)

Shares of Agriculture Assets and Receipts, 2012

Across the States


Beginning farmers are found across the country, with some areas having relatively higher concentrations and some having few beginning farmers (map). The top ten states in percent of principal operators who are beginning farmers:

Top ten states in percent of principal operators who are beginning farmers

Beginning Farmers as Percent of All Farmers, by County, 2012

Comparing 2007 and 2012


This section looks at farmers five years or less on their current farm in a few key areas.

Farm Specialization. The number of farmers beginning on grain and oilseed farms, and on vegetable and melon farms, in the preceding five years was more than 30 percent higher in 2012 than 2007. Farms with a more than 30 percent decrease in such farmers included tobacco farms,cattle feedlots, hog and pig farms, poultry and egg farms, and other animal farms (including aquaculture, horses, etc.). The number of new farmers on beef cattle ranches was 19 percent fewer in 2012 than 2007.

Farm Size. The number of farmers on their current farm five years or less increased only among farms with 1,000 acres or more. Among the smallest farms – fewer than 50 acres – the number of farmers declined 28 percent between 2007 and 2012.

Form Size Delta

Economic Class. In terms of economic class (defined by agriculture sales plus government payments), the number of farm operators on current farm five years or less increased in two classes. In the $50,000 – $249,999 and the $250,000 – $999,999 economic classes, such operators increased 20 and 26 percent, respectively, between 2007 and 2012. However, farms in the groups that increased made up only 15 percent of farmers starting in the preceding five years.

Economic Class Delta

New Data on Years of Experience


The 2012 Census of Agriculture asked a new question to capture the number of beginning farmers by their total years of experience. The new data show that some farmers who were on their current operation ten years or less in 2012 had prior farming experience on another operation.

The 226,670 principal farm operators on their current farm five years or less had operated a farm for an average of 7.1 years, and 39,821 of them had operated a farm for more than ten years (including both their current and prior operations).

The 295,388 principal farm operators on their current farm six to ten years had operated a farm for an average of 11.1 years; a third (99,841) had operated a farm for more than ten years. This new information on total experience will be analyzed further.

The data summarized in this Highlights are for years on current farm. Included are data not previously available that were specially tabulated in connection with the USDA Advisory Committee on Beginning Farmers and Ranchers meeting in June 2014.

Top Commodities, 2012

About the Census of Agriculture


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.

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: 06/12/2017