April 2014
Farm & Field

A Snapshot of Alabama Agriculture

USDA Releases a First Look at 2012 Census of Agriculture Results

Feb. 20, 2014, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service released the 2012 Census of Agriculture preliminary results providing a first look at state and national data.

The 2012 Census reported little change in land in farms, a more diverse principal operator population and several historic changes in value of sales for U.S. agriculture producers from 2007-2012. The report included information on farm numbers, land in farms and farmer demographics. At the national level:

Between 2007-2012, the amount of land in farms in the United States declined by less than 1 percent, from 922-million acres to 915 million. While continuing a downward trend, this is the third smallest decline between censuses since 1950 and is within the margin of error.

According to the 2012 Census, principal farm operators are becoming older and more diverse. The average age of a principal farm operator was 58.3 years, up 1.2 years since 2007, and continuing a 30-year trend of steady increase. And, more minority-operated farms were also accounted for in 2012 than in 2007.

The United States had 2.1 million farms, down 4.3 percent in 2012. In terms of farm size by acres, the decline continued a downward trend in mid-sized farms, while the smallest- and largest-size farms held steady.

In 2012, the value of agriculture products sold totaled $394.6 billion, up 33 percent ($97.4 billion) from 2007. For only the second time in Census history, crop sales ($212.4 billion) exceeded livestock sales ($182.2 billion).

"One of the most important takeaways to remember about the Census of Agriculture is that the information is used for decision making by producers as well as all those who serve farmers, ranchers and rural communities – federal, state and local governments, agribusinesses, trade associations and many others," said Cynthia Price, state statistician of the Alabama Field Office. "When we look at the data for our state, we can all use it as a snapshot in time to see how Alabama agriculture is changing over time and how it compared to the rest of the country."

As an example, the preliminary 2012 Census data show the following key trends for Alabama:

Value of Farm Sales – 2012 showed a dramatic increase in value of sales.

  • Alabama farms sold $5.6 billion in agricultural products in 2012. This was 26 percent more than agricultural sales in 2007.

  • In 2012, livestock sales of $4.3 billion exceeded crop sales of $1.3 billion.

  • Per farm average sales increased to $128,953 from $90,570 in 2007.

Farmer Demographics – Seeing an increase in minority principal operators (except those self-identifying as more than one race).

  • A principal operator is the person primarily responsible for the day-to-day operation of the farm.

  • In 2012, the average age of principal farm operators was 59.3 years, up 1.7 years since 2007, and continuing a 30-year trend of steady increase.

  • Over 3,600 farmers were on their current operation less than 5 years.

  • The census counted more minority-operated farms in 2012 than in 2007.

  • The number of Hispanic principal operators increased by 28 percent.

"The release of the preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture results is only a first look at the data and NASS is eager to publish the final report this May," said NASS Administrator Cynthia Clark. "The 2012 Census was not conducted in a typical crop year, and drought had a major impact on U.S. agriculture, affecting crop yields, production and prices. NASS is still reviewing all 2012 Census items to the county level and therefore data are preliminary until published in the final report."

Conducted since 1840, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches, and the people who operate them. When available in May, the final report will provide even more detailed information for Alabama, providing data on all farm operators and data down to the county level. The publication will also provide new insights into the agriculture industry, reporting new or expanded data on Internet access, regional food systems, biomass production, agro-forestry and equine.

For more information about the Census including access to the 2012 Census of Agriculture preliminary report and the full report when it is released in May, visit www.agcensus.usda.gov.