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Census of Ag: Product value rises

By Staff | Feb 28, 2014

Since 1840 an agricultural census has been conducted every five years in our country. Preliminary findings from 2012, the most recent count, were released Tuesday, Feb. 25, and reveal numbers in a variety of statistical categories.

Not surprisingly, there was a large increase in the value of ag products sold, $394.6 billion, up 33 percent from 2007. Nationally, average value of sales per farm went from $134,807 to $187,093, an increase of 39 percent. “Crop prices are unprecedented,” said Al Graner, Adult Farm Management instructor in Rugby, “the best years in history.”

Crop sales exceeded livestock sales, $212.4 billion to $182.2 billion, for only the second time in census history. In 1974 that was also the case.

Those numbers hold true for North Dakota also. According to Darin Jantzi, director of the North Dakota field office of the National Agricultural Statistics, headquartered in Fargo, the state has 1.8 million beef cows and relatively small numbers of hogs and dairy. Farmers, who years back were into both grains and livestock, have concentrated strictly on crops in recent years, he said.

The amount of farmland in the U.S. declined from 922 million acres in 2007 to 915 million in 2012, the third smallest drop between counts since 1950. The shrinkage was in the acreage in mid-sized farms, with both larger and smaller farms holding steady.

The total number of farms in the U.S. was down to 2.1 million, a decrease of 4.3 percent. But those farms are becoming more diverse, the report said.

Nationally, the census also shows the average age of farm operators was up to 58.3 years in 2012, compared with 57.1 years in 2007. Jantzi said the state is faring a little better in that category. “It went from 56.5 to 57 years in age in North Dakota,” he stated. “I’m surprised that it didn’t go up more.” He speculates younger producers have returned to the farm in the last five years, lowering the age.

Graner concurs. “We’ve seen a fair number of young people start farming,” he said.

Jantzi’s breakout of age groups in North Dakota shows the under age 25 group has decreased since 2007, but the 25-34 cohort has increased. Age 35 and older saw decreases until the 55-74 demographic, which is up. The 75 years plus group is slightly down. It’s possible older farmers, seeing exceptionally good years, decided to hang around and make some serious money, Jantzi says.

Since it is a preliminary report, some statistics could change slightly, USDA cautions. The major drought in 2012 affected crop yields and prices, but the census gives a good picture of how ag is changing. County level information will not be available until the final report in May, Jantzi said.

No matter what the statistics show, both Graner and Jantzi are upbeat about the future, tempered with a dose of reality.

“The trend has been that not as many young people come back to farming,” Jantzi said. “If they inherit, they can remain on the family farm.” But, he adds, faced with renting land and buying all the needed equipment, many young potential farmers opt to take a job in town.

“Today the parameters have changed quite a bit,” Graner said. “But the guys who don’t get too overextended will be all right.”

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