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Census: Unsurprising results regarding bigger, but fewer farms

If you’ve been involved in U.S. agriculture the past few years, you probably won’t be surprised by the main conclusions of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2012 Census of Agriculture.

The census, conducted once every five years, says American farms, on average, are bigger, fewer and more prosperous. And though the number of young farmers has risen, U.S. farmers, on average, are getting even older.

USDA released preliminary results of the 2012 census, covering national and state data, on Feb. 20. Full census results, including county-level data, will be released later this spring.

The preliminary data provides “a snapshot of a strong rural America that has remained stable during difficult economic times,” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack says.

U.S. farmers had record income of $395 billion in 2012, a 33 percent increase from 2007, when the last census was conducted, according to the new census.

“However, the prolonged drought and lack of disaster assistance have made it more difficult for livestock and mid-sized farms to survive. The (recently approved) 2014 farm bill guarantees disaster assistance and provides additional stability for farmers and ranchers,” Vilsack says.

Though the census reports an increase in large and very small farms, the number of mid-scale farms, the sort of operations that traditionally support families, declined from 2007 to 2012, says Traci Bruckner, senior associate for agriculture and conservation policy with the Center for Rural Affairs in Lyons, Neb.

She’s also troubled that, according to the census, the number of farmers in their late 30s through mid-50s declined. The rising number of farmers younger than 34 and older than 54 shouldn’t obscure the loss of farmers in the middle of their career, she says.

The number of farms in the U.S. fell to 2.1 million from 2.2 million in 2007. The average age of farmers rose to 58.3 from 57.1 in 2007. The number of farmers aged 25 to 34 rose to 109,146 from 106,735 in 2007.

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