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Published May 02, 2014, 02:44 PM

NASS releases full 2012 Census of Agriculture

New statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reinforce previously released numbers that show young farmers are becoming a greater presence in agriculture.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

New statistics from the U.S. Department of Agriculture reinforce previously released numbers that show young farmers are becoming a greater presence in agriculture.

Among the new findings: in 2012, farmers aged 25 to 34 with fewer than 10 years on the farm accounted for 17.1 percent of all principal U.S. farmers, up from 13.5 percent in 2007.

The new numbers were included in the full version of the 2012 Census of Agriculture, released May 2 by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In late February, NASS released preliminary findings of the once-every-five-years report, which gives the most complete picture available of operator demographics, agricultural production and farm economics.

The preliminary report showed, among other things, that farms on average are getting bigger and fewer and that more young adults are engaged in farming.

Commodity groups, ag economists and others are expected to study the commodity and county-level data in coming months.

In a webcast May 2, NASS Acting Administrator Joseph Reilly and NASS Statistics Division Director Hubert Hamer discussed the full report.

Reilly noted that the census has been conducted since 1840, with NASS taking over the job from the U.S. Census Bureau in 1997.

The most recent survey was conducted during a period of widespread drought and record grain prices, Hamer said.

Corn, wheat, soybeans and vegetable farms all grew in number from 2007 to 2012, with the number of livestock operations falling in the period, he said.

NASS also released more detailed numbers on so-called “second” and “third” operators, who farm along with the primary operator.

Typically, the second operator is female and has been on the farm many years, presumably the spouse of the primary operator, according to NASS.

The third operator, presumably a child of the primary operator, usually is less than 35 years of age and has been on the farm less than 10 years, according to the census numbers.

From 2007 to 2012, the number of primary operators fell 4.3 percent, with the number of second operators falling 0.4 percent and the number of third operators 1.7 percent.

NASS didn’t offer an explanation of why the percentage declines in second and third operators were relatively small.

Andy Swenson, farm management specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service, couldn’t provide an immediate answer, either.

He speculated that the declining number of farms is cutting into the number of all operators.

But the decline in second and third operators might be limited by growing farm size, which could be causing more spouses and children to get involved in remaining farms, Swenson said.

County leaders

Several Upper Midwest counties were national leaders in certain commodities in 2012, the new census found.

The list includes:

•Soybeans — North Dakota accounted for three of the top five soybean-producing counties. Cass County maintains its position as the nation’s top bean producer, with Stutsman County third and Richland County fifth.

•Wheat — Montana’s Chouteau County ranked third nationally in wheat production, with North Dakota’s Ward County fourth and North Dakota’s Cavalier County fifth.

•Corn — South Dakota’s Brown County ranked second in corn production, Minnesota’s Renville County third and North Dakota’s Richland County fifth.

•Beef cattle — Montana’s Beaverhead County ranked fifth in beef cow numbers.

Keep in mind that large counties, by area, have a built-in advantage in the rankings over smaller ones. For instance, Beaverhead County is by area the biggest county in Montana.

More information: www.agcensus.usda.gov.

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