On April 13, the Washington Post published an article written by Laura Reiley and Andrew Van Dam entitled, “Advocates hoped census would find diversity in agriculture. It found old white people.” The article is based on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s newly released 2017 Census of Agriculture that comes out every five years.

It is reportedly, “the most accurate detailed look at America’s vast, complicated and shrinking agriculture sector,” according to the Reily-Dam team. All the information below by yours truly comes the time and talent of that writing team.

Personally, I found the article to be enlightening, but also scary for American agriculture. I make that statement because the USDA recently stated, “inflation-adjusted net farm income in 2019 would be 49% below its highest level of $136.1 billion in 2013 and below its historical average across 2000-2017.” And I touched on that very subject not long ago in my column for this newspaper entitled, “The Best of Times.”

Keeping in mind the USDA information above regarding farm income, here are highlights from the article composed by the Reiley-Dam writing team.

They wrote: “All categories of midsize farms declined over the past five years. Farmer’s ages skewed older, leaving questions about what happens when they age out.”

The team quoted, Jeff Tripician, president of Perdue Premium Meat.

“We have seen a 30-year decline in almost every single metric. They’re all bad. The number of jobs lost, the average net income down 45% since 2013. There’s no (good) news here. It’s an acceleration of bad. What have we done to fix this?”

Below are other highlights from the Reiley-Dam team that I found interesting:

  • “The number of farm operations dropped 3.2% to 2.04 million. Total acreage farmed nationwide dropped 1.6%, while the average farm size increased by the same percentage, to 441 acres.”
  • “Industry consolidation continued. The number of dairy farms dropped 15% from 2012, but the number of milk cows rose. The National Agricultural Statistics Service, which compiles the census, indicates that just 105,453 farms produced 75% of all sales in 2017, down from 119,908 in 2012.”
  • “The number of farmers and ranchers below the age of 35 is also up, rising 11% to about 285,000. They’re thoroughly outnumbered by the 396,000 producers age 75 and older, however.
  • Beginning producers — those with experience in farming of 10 years or fewer — make up 27%. Still, the average age of U.S. farm producers in 2017 was 57.5 years, creeping up from 56.3 years in 2012.
  • “While the number of male producers declined 1.7%, the number of female producers increased nearly 27% to about 1.23 million.” And, “95% of producers are white.” Plus, “Regardless of race, only two out of every five American farm producers (1.42 million) list farming as their primary job. Almost as many, 1.37 million, spend 200 days or more each year working outside of the farm.”

The words from above, “there is no good news here,” best describes the USDA’s, 2017 Census of Agriculture. The data is sobering for the future.

How can the ag industry attract 30- and 40-year-old men and women into farming and ranching when estimated income in 2019 is expected to hit a 15- to 20-year low?

The old saw, “the best cure for low prices is low prices,” is tried and true. In my opinion, the best way to attract 30- and 40-year-old men and women into farming and ranching is to “show them the money.”


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