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Are farmers in trouble? Ag Census to highlight farm sector health

Media Contact

Rachel Rhodes

The USDA is expected to release the results of the 2017 Census of Agriculture on April 11 at noon. The Census is conducted every five years by the USDA, and represents the most up to date agricultural information including land use, number of farms, and farmer demographics.

Jennifer Ifft

Jennifer Ifft

Assistant Professor

Jennifer Ifft, assistant professor of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University and former member of the USDA’s Economic Research Service, studies farmland markets, risk management, farm labor and how public policy influences agricultural decision making. She says the Census of Agriculture will offer insight into how farms have adjusted to economic stress imposed by lower commodity prices and higher labor costs.

Ifft says:

"While the USDA provides annual national and state-level farm income estimates and other aggregate indicators of farm sector performance, the Census of Agriculture provides unique and valuable information on the structure of U.S. agriculture. The Census provides detailed information on the number of farms by size, both by total sales and production levels, and will inform us whether the decades-long trend of increasing farm size and specialization accelerated from 2012-2017.

"There will be great interest in changes in the number of farms, land in farms, number of women and minority farm operators, and number of young and beginning farmers. In addition to these aggregate trends, data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture will provide important insights into how different types of farms have weathered across-the-board declines in commodity prices since 2012. Farms have also faced increasing labor costs, with little relief in other expenses categories. 

"The USDA Economic Research Service estimates that net cash farm income declined from $135 billion in 2012 to $100 billion in 2017. Despite this general stress, some farms have managed to stay profitable while there have also been many reports of farm exits, especially for relatively smaller farms."

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