5 Questions We Hope the 2017 Census of Ag Will Answer

The data was five years in the making. What will it tell us about farms, farming and farmers?
( Lindsey Benne )

It’s the Christmas of the agricultural data world, and we’re ready to dice up and deliver the naughty and nice facts about the economics of agriculture in the United States.

Two years ago, 72% of American farmers shared critical data about their operations, finances, labor, crops and livestock. Now we’re ready for the big reveal on April 11. As we wait, here are the top five questions we’re tracking. 

Question 1.  Who is running the farm? 

2012 saw a decline in women as principal operators but a slight uptick in diversity, with increases in the number of black, Hispanic, American Indian and Asian principal operators. Average ages of farmers also climbed in 2012, from 57.1 years in 2007 to 58.3 years in 2012. And the total number of all operators took a slight dip as well, down 3.1%. What will 2017 tell us about who’s running the family farm?

Question 2: What’s the farmer’s financial outlook? 

Some say the devil is in the details, and this case the detail is the crucial income/expense ratio. While agricultural sales increased 32.8% from 2007 to 2012 and income saw double-digit increases, expenses were also up—by a whopping 36.4%. Seed expenses increased 66% from 2007 to 2012, and fertilizer increased 57.6%, while labor climbed 23.4%. Will income and expenses show a continued upward march? We’d put money on it. 

Question 3: What do current hog operations look like? 

“I am interested in the shift of hog operation numbers and also where growth has been located,” says Jennifer Shike, Editor of Farm Journal’s PORK. “With disease pressure, I’m curious where those operations are moving to within the U.S. I’m also interested in ag labor numbers and how those demographics have changed since 2012.”

Question 4: How have dairy herd demographics changed? 

“I want to know how the herd demographics have shifted and regionalities as well,” says Mike Opperman, Editor, Farm Journal’s MILK and Dairy Editorial Director. “I think it will help support our theory that certain areas of the country are ‘drying up,’ while others are growing significantly.”

Question 5: Is consolidation continuing in the beef market?

“From the beef industry perspective, the 2012 census counted 727,000 producers, with 10% owning 100 cows or more. That meant 10% of the operations controlled 55% of the cows,” says Greg Henderson, Drovers Editorial Director. “We expect the 2017 numbers to show more consolidation, with more of the cows falling into herds with more than 100 cows.”

What are your burning questions? Share yours with us here. 

Related articles: 
Take a look back at the 2012 Census data. 

Check out dairy’s top 10 job-generating states

See how many farms were family-owned in 2012.