The steady decline in farming that had some worried America wouldn't be able to feed itself has leveled off as a new generation of farmers has jumped in and been rewarded with the highest level of sales in U.S. history, $395 billion, according to a new Agriculture Department census.
“I think its fairly positive, to have a stable agricultural production system that is capable of feeding us and providing fiber and providing a portion of our fuel, I think that's very positive,” said Hubert Hamer, the statistics division director at USDA.
“There is a slowing in the decline of farms and a stabilization of acres” in agricultural use, he said in an interview from his Washington headquarters of USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
His office’s first farm census in five years found that women run 30 percent of the nations farms, more are going green and the trend of selling direct to consumers and restaurants has exploded. In the Maryland-Virginia area, for example, direct sales in 2012 rose $20 million to $69.7 million since the 2007 census.
Hamer also said that many farms appear poised to remain in business for a long time due to having younger partners or family members involved. “There is a pipeline for new operators,” he said.
Two facts in the 695-page statistical report of American farming in 2012 jump out: 2 percent of the U.S. population feeds the rest of the 98 percent and 1.1 percent of American farms, mostly mega-operations, account for 44.4 percent of all sales.
While much of the news in the report was positive, Hamer noted that farmers are getting whacked by significantly higher costs for feed, fuel and fertilizer. Despite that, sales in 2012 hit a record $395 billion and net farm income was up. In the last census of 2007, total sales were $297 billion.
Other key stats from USDA:
— 22 percent of all farmers were beginning farmers in 2012. That means 1 out of every 5 farmers operated a farm for less than 10 years.
— Young, beginning principal operators who reported their primary occupation as farming increased from 36,396 to 40,499 between 2007 and 2012. That's an 11.3 percent increase in the number of young people getting into agriculture as a full-time job.
— 969,672 farm operators were female—30 percent of all farm operators in the U.S.
— The number of farms ran by Latino farmers increased from 82,462 in 2007 to 99,734 in 2012. That 21% increase reflects the changing face of America as a whole.
— Farmers and ranchers continue to lead the charge towards a more sustainable energy future. 57,299 farms reported using a renewable energy producing system in 2012. That's more than double the 23,451 operations that reported the same in 2007. Solar panels accounted for 63 percent of renewable energy producing systems on farms, with 36,331 farms reporting their use.
— Total organic product sales by farms have increased by 82 percent since 2007, from $1.76 billion in 2007 to $3.1 billion in 2012.Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.