Census finds fewer Iowa farms, higher product value

Preliminary 2012 census shows farmland down 4.6 percent from 2007

George Ford
Published: February 20 2014 | 2:20 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:56 am in

A report issued every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows Iowa had fewer farms in 2012 than in 2007, but the market value of agricultural products sold by producers rose in the period.

The preliminary 2o12 Census of Agriculture released Thursday by the USDA's National Agriculture Statistics Service lists 88,631 farms in Iowa, down 4.6 percent from 92,856 farms in 2007. The average size of an Iowa farm grew 4.2 percent from 331 acres in 2007 to 345 acres in 2012.

The market value of agricultural products sold by Iowa farms increased 51 percent from $20.4 billion in 2007 to $30.8 billion in 2o12. The average market value of ag products sold per farm rose 58.1 percent from $219,890 in 2007 to $347,641 in 2012.

Of the 88,631 farm operators in 2012, 81,528 were men (down 3.4 percent from 84,404 in 2007) and 7,103 were women (down 16 percent from 8,452 in 2007). A majority of Iowa farmers were between 45 and 74 years of age in 2012, unchanged from 2007, and the average farmer was 57.1 years old, up from 56.1 years old in 2007.

While the preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture does not provide data on specific crops like corn and soybeans, Iowa farmers rank second in the nation for total agricultural sales, crop sales and livestock sales. The state ranks third in the nation for the total number of farms behind Texas and Missouri.

Nationally, the number of farms decreased in 34 states but increased in 16 states. In several southeastern and mid-western states, the decrease in number of farms was statistically significant, according to the USDA.

The amount of land in farms decreased in 31 states, but increased in 19 states. In 25 states, the number of farms and the amount of land in farms went down. In 10 states, both statistics increased.

In 2012, the average age of principal farm operators was 58.3 years, up 1.2 years since 2007. That continued a 30-year trend of steady increase.

“We have an aging farm population and they are carrying a debt load that is small, historically. But we have also reached that point where this aging population is starting to push over to the younger farmer and it looks like his debt load is going to be sizable,” said Don Roose, president of U.S. Commodities in West Des Moines.

In 2012, the number of beginning farmers – on their current operation less than 10 years – was down 20 percent from 2007. Nearly 172,000 farmers were on their current operation less than five years.

Roose said young farmers will have to cope with interest rates that are likely to rise, farmland values forecast by USDA to slip and flat or lower grain prices for the next few years.

The Census of Agriculture counted more minority-operated farms in 2012 than in 2007. Hispanic principal operators increased by 21 percent.

In 2012, more than 90 percent of female farmers operated farms with sales less than $50,000. More than a third of Asian farmers operated farms with sales of $50,000 or more.

The USDA plans to release the full 2012 Census of Agriculture in the spring.

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