OVER the years, the number of U.S. farms has increased 4%, although the increase in the number of small and large farms is squeezing out the number of midsized farms, according to the new 2007 Census of Agriculture numbers released Feb. 4.

The census is conducted every five years and provides facts and figures on virtually every aspect of U.S. agriculture.

Its definition of a farm is any place from which $1,000 or more agricultural products were produced or sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year.

The total number of farms has increased in the last five years, going from 2.130 million in 2002 to 2.205 million in 2007. Compared to all farms nationwide, these new farms tend to be more diverse, with fewer acres, lower sales and younger operators who also work off the farm, according to Carol House, National Agricultural Statistics Service deputy administrator.

In the past five years, U.S. farm operators have become more demographically diverse. The 2007 census counted nearly 30% more women as principal farm operators, while the count of Hispanic operators grew 10%, and the counts of American Indian, Asian and Black farm operators increased as well.

The farming population continues to age. Since 1978, recent censuses showed the average farmer's age at 53.3 in 1992, 54.0 in 1997, 55.3 in 2002 and 57.1 in 2007.

House added that a total of 39 states had more farms than in 2002, while a downtrend occurred in states such as Tennessee, Georgia and Nebraska. In Colorado, Wyoming, Montana and New England states, farm numbers increased by more than 5%.

Census results showed that the majority of U.S. farms are smaller operations.

Joe Prusacki, head of the agency's statistics division, explained that many of these smaller operations are located near city centers where once larger farms are now divided into smaller acreages.

More than 36% are classified as residential/lifestyle farms that have sales of less than $250,000 and operators with a primary occupation other than farming. Another 21% are considered retirement farms, which have sales of less than $250,000 and operators who reported that they are retired.

Compared to the 2002 census, farms have decreased in average size, going from 441 acres in 2002 to 418 acres in 2007 (Figure) mainly due to an increase in the number of farms in the one- to nine-acre range, which rose from 179,346 in 2002 to 232,849 in 2007. Total harvested cropland increased from 302.697 million acres in 2002 to 309.608 million in 2007.

Prusacki explained that on a percentage basis, 60% of all farm sales incomes come from farms with sales of more than $1 million and account for less than 5% of all farms. In 2002, 144,000 farms accounted for 75% of production in terms of dollars, and the latest figures show only 125,000 farms.

The average per-farm market value of products sold rose 43%, going from $94,245 in 2002 to $134,807 in 2007. Total dollar increases were shown in both crop sales -- from $95.152 billion in 2007 to $143.658 billion in 2007 -- and in sales of livestock, poultry and their products -- from $105.494 billion in 2002 to $153.563 billion in 2007.

Livestock concentration continues to be in traditional areas, with cow/calf production still widespread, Prusacki said. In addition, consolidation persists in the livestock sector.

The total number of farms selling cattle and calves decreased 6%, hogs and pigs down 9% and broilers and meat-type chickens down 15% from 2002. Farm inventories of beef cows were down 4% and milk cows down 24%, while layer inventories were up 48%.

The 2007 census found that 57% of all farmers have internet access, up from 50% in 2002. For the first time in 2007, the census also looked at high-speed internet access. Of those producers having internet access, 58% reported having a high-speed connection.

Another first in the 2007 census questioned farm operations about on-farm energy generation from sources such as windmills, solar collectors or methane. Prusacki said 23,400 farms reported that they do have on-farm energy production.

To view the corresponding charts, link to the full report.