Record sales throughout U.S. moderated by rising expenses

Senior Editor

(May 13, 2014) The just-released 2012 ag census figures are like a huge dinner buffet.
There is something for everybody.
There are a few disappointments, of course — cropland acreage continues to decline across the nation — but all in all, agriculture in the United States continues to flex its muscle.
There are now 3.2 million farmers operating 2.1 million farms on 914.5 million acres of farmland across the United States, according to the census.
Census data provide valuable insight into the U.S. farmer demographics, economics and production practices. Some of the key findings include:
Both sales and production expenses reached record highs in 2012. U.S. producers sold $394.6 billion worth of agricultural products, but it cost them $328.9 billion to produce these products
Three quarters of all farms had sales of less than $50,000, producing only 3 percent of the total value of farm products sold while those with sales of more than $1 million — 4 percent of all farms — produced 66 percent.
Much of the increased farm income was concentrated geographically or by farm categories.
California led the nation with 9 of the 10 top counties for value of sales. Fresno County was number one in the United States with nearly $5 billion in sales in 2012, which is greater than that of 23 states.
The top 5 states for agricultural sales were California ($42.6 billion); Iowa ($30.8 billion); Texas ($25.4 billion); Nebraska ($23.1 billion); and Minnesota ($21.3 billion).
The census showed a nationwide drop in land devoted to agricultural production from 922 million acres in 2007 to less than 915 million acres.
This reduction continues a downward trend that has resulted in a 72 million-acre decrease of land in agriculture since 1982.
Maryland had the third highest rate of farmland loss in the country and has been losing nearly 20,000 acres of farmland a year to unchecked development and urban sprawl.
Eighty-seven percent of all U.S. farms are operated by families or individuals.
Principal operators were on average 58.3 years old and were predominantly male; second operators were slightly younger and most likely to be female; and third operators were younger still.
Young, beginning principal operators who reported their primary occupation as farming increased 11.3 percent from 36,396 to 40,499 between 2007 and 2012.
All categories of minority-operated farms increased between 2007 and 2012; the Hispanic-operated farms had a significant 21 percent increase.
According to the census, 144,530 farm operators reported selling products directly to consumers. In 2012, these sales totaled more than $1.3 billion (up 8.1 percent from 2007).
Organic sales were growing, but accounted for just 0.8 percent of the total value of U.S. agricultural production.
Organic farmers reported $3.12 billion in sales in 2012, up from $1.7 billion in 2007.
A total of 57,299 farms produced on-farm renewable energy, more than double the 23,451 in 2007.
And 474,028 farms covering 173.1 million acres were farmed with conservation tillage or no-till practices.
Corn and soybean acres topped 50 percent of all harvested acres for the first time.
The largest category of operations was beef cattle with 619,172 or 29 percent of all farms and ranches in 2012 specializing in cattle.
For access to the complete data series and tools to analyze this information, visit
A link to census data will also be available on the USDA Open Data portal,