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Number Of U.S. Farms Drops, Value Of Agricultural Crops On The Rise

Written by Ken Gaebler
Published: 2/25/2014

Five-year government study shows the impact an aging agricultural workforce is having on the volume of farm-based businesses as the market value of agricultural products reaches an all-time high.

Over the past few decades, consolidation has been the name of the game in the U.S. agricultural economy. Faced with rising costs and tighter margins, small family farms have been forced out of the industry by larger, more efficient farming operations.

Farm Census Reports Lower Number of Small Farms

Recently, the federal government released the results of a census study that is conducted every five years to gauge key variables across the agricultural sector. According to the results of the latest study, there were a total of 2.1 million farms in the U.S. in 2012, a drop of 5 percent from 2007 and a continuation of the long-term decline in the volume of farms.

An Associated Press report also highlighted the study's findings on the rising age of the nation's farmers. In 2012, the average age of the American farmer was 58.3 years old and a third of all farmers were more than 65 years old.

"The reality is, over time those folks won't be able to continue farming, and the question for all of us is, if they don't, who will?" said Agriculture Secretary, Tom Vilsack.

On the upside, the report seemed to show a bump in the number of farmers in the 25-34 year-old age bracket. This gain was attributed to an increased focus on the agricultural export market and domestic demand for locally grown foods, factors that contribute to younger agri-entrepreneurs' interest in starting a farm.

Another bright spot in the report was the value of U.S. agricultural products. In 2012, farms across the nation sold nearly $395 billion in crops, livestock and other agricultural products--a 33 percent increase from 2007 and a record high.

Although the size of the average farm grew from 418 to 434 acres, total U.S. farmland shrank from 922 million to 915 million acres. This reflects Vilsack's concerns about the plight of rural America, and the fact that fewer young people are taking the reins of family farms. A declining farm population has translated into less political power, further jeopardizing the sustainability of agricultural businesses.

"My question is not just who is going to farm, but who is going to defend them?" Vilsack told the AP.

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