The number of farms in the United States has grown 4% and the operators of those farms have become more diverse in the past five years, according to results of the 2007 Census of Agriculture released in early February by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

“The Census of Agriculture is a valuable tool that provides the general public with an accurate and comprehensive view of American agriculture. It's also a set of benchmarks against which this Department must measure and demonstrate its performance to agriculture and the taxpayer,” said Secretary Tom Vilsack.
USDA’s definition of a farm for the census 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.

Overall, the census found an increase in the number of farms, and 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.
Here are highlights from the census:

  • The 2007 Census counted 2,204,792 farms in the United States, a net increase of 75,810 farms.
  • Nearly 300,000 new farms have begun operation since the last census in 2002.
  • Compared to all farms nationwide, these new farms tend to have more diversified production, fewer acres, lower sales and younger operators who also work off-farm.
  • In the past five years, US farm operators have become more demographically diverse. The 2007 Census counted nearly 30% more women as principal farm operators. The count of Hispanic operators grew by 10%, and the counts of American Indian, Asian and Black farm operators increased as well.

Additionally, the latest census figures show a continuation in the trend towards more small and very large farms and fewer mid-sized operations. Between 2002 and 2007, the number of farms with sales of less than $2,500 increased by 74,000. The number of farms with sales of more than $500,000 grew by 46,000 during the same period.

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

In addition to looking at farm numbers, operator demographics and economic aspects of farming, the Census of Agriculture delves into numerous other areas, including organic, value-added, and specialty production, all of which are on the rise.

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 accessing the Internet, 58% reported having a high-speed connection.

Other “firsts” in the 2007 Census include questions about on-farm energy generation, community-supported agriculture arrangements and historic barns.

The Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years, is a complete count of the nation’s farms and ranches and the people who operate them. It provides the only source of uniform, comprehensive agricultural data for every county in the nation. Census results are available online at http:// www.agcensus.usda.gov