Here are some facts you already may know, but which Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak clarified in a report issued Thursday on the every-five-year census of American agriculture.
- Farmers are getting older — the average age reflected in the census was 58.3 years. About a third of the farmers were 65 or older in 2012.
- The total number of farms in the U.S. was 2.1 million in 2012, a decline of more than 4 percent from 2007. However, that lower number may reflect that farms are getting bigger as smaller ones are swallowed up to become part of larger operations.
- Total acreage of farmland also declined over the same time period — from 922 million acres to 915 million.
- The market value of all agricultural products was $395 billion, 33 percent higher than in 2007.
- Most U.S. farms are small — 75 percent had sales of less than $50,000 in 2012. Farm gate sales per farm for all farms averaged $187,000 in 2012, an increase of $52,000 or 39 percent over 2007.
Operators of smaller farms tend to be people who have outside employment, or an independent source of income, as well as farm income. These are individuals or families who choose farming as much for its lifestyle as for the income derived from it.
For instance, a family during much of the 20th century could make a living milking 30 or 40 cows. Today, it would be hard, if not impossible, to make it with 10 times that many animals. Some dairies have up to 20,000 cows.
Diversified farming is less common than it used to be. Some farms grow only one or two crops, where in the past farmers would hedge their bets by growing several crops.
Younger farmers, according to The Associated Press, often are attracted by the growing of organic, locally-produced foods, and by the promises of export markets for some commodities. The AP said those younger farmers will be likely to increase the scope of their operations — a necessity if they are to stay in farming for the long haul.