Ag Policy Blog
Chris Clayton DTN Ag Policy Editor

Sunday 02/23/14

Ag Census: Tough to be in the Middle

The hardest spot to be as a farmer in age of high grain prices from 2007 to 2012 was a middle-aged farmer with fewer than 1,000 acres.

Based on acreage, the only group of farmers to increase in number were farmers with 1,000 acres or more. (I hope more data comes down looking at larger acreage figures.) There were 173,483 farmers with at least 1,000 acres, which was 434 more than in 2007. Statistically, the number of larger operators was effectively unchanged.

There were fewer farmers in every other farm size. The census showed 346,062 farmers in the 180-499 acre range, that's 22,306 fewer than in 2007.

In the 500-999 acre range, there were 142,549 farmers in 2012. That number was 7,164 fewer than 2007.

The age group hit hardest in terms declining brethren were farmers in the age from 45-54. There are 99,353 fewer producers in that age group in 2012 than in the 2007 ag census.

There were 119,865 main farm operators under age 35 in 2012, a slight uptick of 1,252 more than 2007.

Older farmers became a bigger voting bloc. Not only has the average age of operators increased, but there are 707,255 farmers that are at least age 65, an increase of 51,601 in five years.

Two million farmers describe their race as white. All other ethnic designations accounted for 96,589 farmers.

Women accounted for 288,269 principal operators. The number of women principal operators declined by 6% while the number of men declined by 4%.

Looking at states, the ones with the largest decline in farmers included:

Tennessee -11,230

Wis -8,707

Missouri -8,655

Kentucky, 8,196

Minnesota, -6,455

Oklahoma -6,320

Georgia, -5,589

Alabama -5,225

No one cause led to the decline in any state, but I wondered if there might be come quick associations anyway. I thought fewer livestock numbers could have a linkage. Given that some of these states are major cow-calf producers, I thought that might be a number to compare. The results were mixed:

Tennessee had 2.3 million cattle and calves in 2007, a figure that dropped to 1.97 million by 2012, a decline of more than 15% over that time.

Wisconsin had 3.4 million cows and calves in both 2007 and 2012. The number of cattle was basically the same throughout the period of the census.

Missouri had 4.45 million cows and calves in 2007 and 3.9 million in 2012, or 13% fewer cows and calves.

Kentucky had 2.46 million cows and calves in 2007, which dropped to 2.15 million in 2012, a decline of about 13%.

Minnesota's decline in farms showed no connection to cattle. The cow-calf herd remained steady with 2.36 million head in 2012, a decline of about 60,000 from 2007 figures.

Oklahoma showed 5.25 million cows and calves in 2007 down to 4.5 million in 2012. Oklahoma's numbers on cow-calf declines are more skewed toward the drought in 2011 because the early herd numbers starting in 2011 were 5.1 million.

Alabama had about 1.21 million cows and calves in 2012, a decline of about 110,000 head, a decline of about 9%.

Georgia as well lost about 150,000 cattle from 2007-2012 with the cow-calf herd at just over 1 million head now.

Posted at 7:22PM CST 02/23/14 by Chris Clayton
Comments (4)
Kinda Scary,, You have 120,000 young farmers to replace 707,000 older ones. And your middle aged farmers lost have moved up to the upper aged group in the last 5 years, there is nobody to replace them.Small acre farmers have been lost to retirement.I don't belive it has anythig to do with livestock numbers.It is an age thing and it is going to get worse.Some very large farms close to us have middle to upper aged producers and no one interested in farming in the next generation.We will keep losing farmers maybe not in acreage, but in numbers.
Posted by Raymond Simpkins at 8:22AM CST 02/24/14
Big Ag is getting just what they want.
Posted by Mike Estadt at 10:05AM CST 02/24/14
Customers wanting cheaper food are getting just what they want.
Posted by CRAIG MOORE at 9:53AM CST 02/27/14
What's really also scary is that most of the upper middle aged farmers who struggled for years and left farming, don't have a big 401K or a sack of money or a big contribution to social security to fall back on. I'd bet many lost the elder stateswomen in the family who kept her hands on the land and they couldn't afford to buy out the other family members........ you know, the ones who DO have the nice retirement and big social security contributions coming. Those for whom the money from the farm is just a big bonus for a new retirement home in Arizona or Hawaii. This scenario is quietly played out time and time again.
Posted by Bruce Hanson at 4:24AM CDT 03/11/14
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