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Farm News & Views for the week of February 19, 2024

The USDA released the 2022 Ag Census last week. The report is a survey that takes a snapshot of American farmers and their operations every five years, starting in 1840. The data is used by the agency and congress to help policymakers determine funding for a range of USDA programs as well as highlighting the needs of farmers and ranchers in the near future. A significant finding of the survey was that the U.S. lost nearly 142,000 farms, and that 20.1 million ag acres of farm and pasture land were removed from the production of food and fiber since the 2017 census was compiled.

At a briefing where the 2022 Census results were rolled out, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack called the loss of both the farms and the acreage "significant" and that these losses were "a wake-up call" for the USDA and Congress. He also asked,"Are we OK with losing that many farms and that much farmland or is there a better way?" He continued, “The importance of this survey is that it allows us to take a snapshot in time and compare what has occurred over the last five-year period and begin asking ourselves questions about policy formation and the direction that we need to take to correct or deal with some of the challenges that the data presents."

The census revealed that there was a loss of both large and small farms. For example, in the class of farms of 1,000 acres or more, there was a loss of almost 14,000 farms since the 2017 census, and in the class of farms of less than ten acres, the census showed a decline of almost 39,000 farms, which is a reversal of the nearly 50,000 new small farms that were reported in the 2017 census, when compared to the 2012 census. The farm acreage, including cropland and pasture, was over 880 million acres in 2022, but the loss of more than 20.1 million acres of productive farmland since the 2017 census would have supported 43,448 "average size" farm operations.

Looking at market concentration, the USDA reports that just over 26,000 farms, or about 1.4% of all farms, account for 50% of all sales for all products. Or for a broader view, 89,200 farm operations account for 75% of all sales, that’s an average of $12.7 million in revenue for each farm, and those farms average about 2,700 acres in size. But about 16,000 of the largest farm operations, making up less than 1% of all farms, reported more than $5 million in sales each, and generated $229.6 billion in sales in 2022, and that amounts to an average of just over $14 million in sales for each of these farms. Out of 1.9 million farmers, there were 586,286 farms, or nearly 31% of farms, reporting sales of under $2,500. They combined to generate $406.2 million in sales or an average of $692.83 per farm.

All farm production expenses topped $424.14 billion in 2022, up $97.75 billion from five years earlier, or 23% higher. Livestock feed was valued at $88.37 billion, up $25.75 billion from five years earlier. Fertilizer expenses were $36.14 billion, up $12.6 billion or 34.8%. Hired labor cost $41.8 billion or $10.2 billion more than in 2017.

While the country lost 142,000 farms from 2017 to 2022, the number of overall producers was 3.374 million, down about 25,790 producers from 2017. Of those farmers, 1.4 million listed farming as their primary occupation while another 1.96 million farmers listed "other."

According to the census, 2.149 million producers were men and 1.224 million were women in 2022. The number of men producers fell by 23,055 from 2017 and the number of women producers declined by 2,735.

The majority of farmers, or 2.28 million, have been on their present farms for more than 10 years. The average number of years on the present farm is 21.2 years. The average age of farmers in 2022 was 58.1 years old, that’s up from 57.5 years in 2017, and Vilsack pointed to the continued rise in the average age of farmers as a need to encourage more young people to enter the profession. There were 112,379 farmers listed as "Young Producers," defined as 34 years of age or younger.

"We continue to see the aging nature of our farming community," Vilsack said. "We recognize the importance of making the case to bright young people about the career opportunities and the changes that you have to make a fundamental difference in agriculture and food."

Looking at race, 3.219 million farmers were listed as white and 112,379 farmers reported as Hispanic or Latino. American Indian or Alaskan Natives made up 56,203 farmers while 41,807 farmers were listed as Black or African American.

The Beef Quality Assurance program was designed to train producers about on-farm practices that influence beef safety and quality. A Colorado Beef Quality Assurance and BOQ Transportation training classes are scheduled for Monday, March 11, from 9 am to 12 pm. at the Yellow Jacket Livestock Auction. Both classes are free of charge, but online preregistration is requested at

An old proverb states, “Tell me who your friends are and I will tell you who you are.”

Bob has been an agricultural educator and farm and ranch management consultant for over 40 years in southwest Colorado. He writes about agricultural issues from his farm near Cortez, and has helped to produce farm reports on KSJD for more than a dozen years.