February 5, 2009

Trend broken or at least leveled; number of U.S. farms increases

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. - The number of U.S. farms and ranches, which has been declining since World War II, increased by 4 percent to 2.2 million since 2002.

"We are no longer just losing farms steadily, but we actually may have hit bottom and are increasing slightly," said Greg Preston, director of U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Ag Statistics Service office in Indiana.

The 2007 Census of Agriculture numbers, released on Wednesday (Feb. 4), showed the number of farms and ranches in Indiana followed the nation and increased by 1 percent to 60,938. Even with the number of farms increasing, the overall amount of farmland decreased by 2 percent and the average size of the Indiana farm decreased by 3 percent.

According to the census, the average size of the Indiana farm is 242 acres and the state has 14.8 million acres of farmland. The United States has 922.1 million acres of land in farms, down from the 2002 number of 938.3 million acres.

Crop sales in Indiana had a market value of more than $5 billion, while state livestock sales had a market value of around $2.9 billion. Indiana's total market value of agricultural products for 2007 was more than $8 billion, a 73 percent increase from the 2002 census. The nation's total market value of agricultural products was $297 billion, up 48 percent from 2002.

The top three corn-producing counties in Indiana include Jasper, White and Knox. The top three soybean-producing counties in Indiana are Knox, Montgomery and Benton. Posey, Knox and Gibson counties are the three Indiana counties that grow the most wheat.

A few of the many things the 2007 Census of Agriculture shows is a decrease in mid-sized farms, an increase in organic production, an increase in small farms and an increase in the average age of the farmer.

"The category of farms that have 2,000 acres or more actually increased by 30 percent from the previous census, whereas farms that are less than 50 acres or more - specifically farms that have one to nine acres - have actually gone up 79 percent," Preston said. "We think that's not only a reversal of trend but maybe a transition as we see more and more farms in the smaller categories across the state."

Preston said the number of farms that had 50 acres to 1,999 acres declined.

To boost income, the owner of a middle-sized farm has to decide whether to increase farm size, find off-farm supplemental employment or decrease the size of their farm and try a different kind of farming, such as specialty crops and direct marketing, Preston said.

There are 287 Indiana farms comprising 14,143 acres that grow certified organic crops. LaGrange County ranks first in organic production in Indiana with 34 farms and 1,457 acres.

A follow-up survey will be sent out to organic producers in the next few months to gather more information.

The average age of U.S. farm operators increased from 55.3 years old in 2002 to 57.1 years old in 2007. The number of operators 75 years and older grew by 20 percent from 2002, while the number of operators under 25 years old decreased by 30 percent.

Preston said the ever-increasing average age of the farmer might soon turn into a crisis because the knowledge and skills gained through the course of their careers may soon be lost.

Not only might a skill set be lost, but also land.

"Because of the increasing age of farmers, we can expect to see more land transitions made in the future, whether it's from one farmer to another, divided into small acres and sold or used for development," said Kevin McNamara, a Purdue professor of agricultural economics who specializes in farmland price analysis and Indiana and regional growth trends.

The percentage of farm operations with Internet access has increased over the past five years, from 50 percent in 2002 to 57 percent in 2007. The census examined high-speed Internet access, an important measure of farmers' ability to use the Internet effectively. Of the U.S. farms with Internet access, 58 percent reported having a high-speed connection. The 2007 census shows both Internet access and high-speed Internet access at the county level for the first time.

In addition Internet information, farmers also were asked about on-farm energy production, such as windmills and anaerobic digesters. More information from the 2007 Census of Agriculture can be found online at http://www.agcensus.usda.gov.

USDA-NASS mailed out 3.1 million surveys and had an 85.2 percent response rate.

Writer: Julie Douglas, 765-496-1050, douglajk@purdue.edu

Source: Greg Preston, 765-494-8371, gpreston@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722;
Beth Forbes, forbes@purdue.edu
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