2012 Census Highlights
In 2012, U.S. farmers were older and more diverse than in 2007, the last time the agriculture census was conducted. The total number of farmers declined, with the percentage decline more for women than men. More minorities operated farms in 2012, and the number of beginning farmers declined.
How Many Farmers?
In 2012, 3.2 million farmers operated 2.1 million farms. Like the previous agriculture census, the 2012 Census of Agriculture collected data on up to three operators per farm. Whether counting only principal operators (the person primarily responsible for the day-to-day operation of the farm) or also second and third operators, the number of U.S. farmers declined between 2007 and 2012 going down 4.3 percent in the case of principal operators. (Table 1)
Fourty-four percent of all farms reported having two operators, and 7 percent reported three operators involved in day-to-day decision making. Principal operators differ from second and third operators in a number of ways. They are on average older, more likely to be male, and more likely to consider farming their primary occupation. They work fewer days off the farm than do second and third operators, and in 2012, 78 percent were on their current farm ten or more years. (Table 2)
Two thirds (67 percent) of second operators are women, of whom 90 percent are the spouse of the principal farm operator. Most farm operations report that they are organized as a family or individual operation. Third operators are younger than principal operators and 45 percent were on their current farm less than ten years in 2012.
Fewer Women Farming
Of the 2.1 million principal operators in the United States, 288,264 were women (Table 3). This was a 6 percent decrease since 2007 larger than the decrease in male principal operators. But for all female operators (principal, second, and third), the decrease was only 1.6 percent. Women were 14 percent of principal operators but 30 percent of all operators.