According to the new data, US farmers continue to get older. The average age of all farmers (or “producers” in the Census) went up from 56.3 to 57.5 years, and the average age of “primary producers” increased from 58.3 to 59.4 years. Furthermore, most farmers are still overwhelmingly white (95.4 percent) and male (64 percent).
However, the number of female farmers reported increased by 27 percent since 2012, whereas the number of male farmers reported declined by 2 percent. Note that this result reflects the effectiveness of the USDA’s changes to demographic questions, which allowed farms to list more than one producer engaged in farm decision-making.
Thanks to new categories of data collection, we now know that 11 percent of farmers have a military background (i.e., currently or previously served on active duty in the US Armed Forces), and 17 percent of all farms include a farmer who has served in the military. We also now know more about farm decision-making than previous results were able to track. For example, female farmers are most involved with day-to-day decisions, record keeping, and financial management. Young farmers are more likely than older farmers to make decisions related to livestock.
According to the newly released 2017 Census of Agriculture from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there were over 321,000 young farmers (under the age of 35) in the U.S. That count is up from 2012, when there were 208,000.
While that might sound like a sizable leap, the numbers are complicated by the fact that the USDA only recently began allowing farms to list more than one “operator”—meaning children of farm owners can now be listed along with their parents. Since over 100,000 of those young farmers—nearly the entire difference—are part-owners or tenants of the farm, the overall percentage is only up by 2 percent, from 7.6 to 9.4 percent of total farmers.