Census: Fewer But Larger Indiana Farms; Farm Operators Aging

The average age of Indiana farmers has increased in the last few years, as has the average size of the state’s farms, according to the USDA’s latest Census of Agriculture.

The USDA released data from the 2012 census this month. The results showed that the average age of Indiana farmers increased by 2.1 years over the last decade to 55.8 years old as fewer young people entered the industry.

That was a bit unexpected for some in agriculture who thought a prosperous few years for much of the industry would encourage younger people to enter the profession, said Purdue Extension agricultural economist Chris Hurt.

“There was some thought that the high incomes in recent years would have attracted more young farmers,” he said. “Since 2007, the number of Indiana farmers who were under 55 years of age declined by 13.9%, and the number 55 and over increased by 1,995, or 6.6%.”

The previous census had been conducted in 2007. Between 2007 and 2012, the number of Indiana farms declined by 3.7% to 58,695. During that same time period, Indiana farms grew in size from an average of 242 acres per farm to 251, with 75% of the state’s farms having less than 180 acres.

But while a majority of Indiana’s farms fall into the category of less than 180 acres, the number of small farms declined in the five years between censuses. The number of farms with less than 2,000 acres dropped by 2,354 or 3.9%, while the number of farms with more than 2,000 acres increased by 111, or 8.6%.

“The period from 2007 to 2012 in Indiana agriculture was one of growing incomes and growing farm wealth,” Hurt said. “But familiar long-term themes returned suggesting fewer, but larger farms with aging farm operators, and continued loss of farmlands to urbanization.”

Back in 2007, farms that annually sold at least $500,000 worth of farm products, represented just 6.9% of the state’s farms, but sold 68.2% of the state’s total farm products. In 2012, 9.3% of the state’s farms sold $500,000 or more and represented 75.7% of the state’s total farm product sales of $11.2 billion.

“This means Indiana is approaching the point where 10% of the farms are generating nearly 80% of the state’s agricultural output,” Hurt said.

Listen to Hurt discuss the number of farms and farm sizes.

Another interesting trend, Hurt said, is that census numbers showed more Indiana farmers selling farm products directly to consumers through farmers markets and other outlets.

The latest data shows that 3,673 Indiana farms were selling farm products for human consumption directly to consumers – an increase of 2.7% since 2007. But even with the increase, the value of products sold directly to consumers represented just 0.2% of the state’s total farm product sales.

Hurt pointed out a few other census highlights for Indiana:

  • Crops dominated the market value of agricultural products sold, representing 67.2% of the state’s total, compared with 32.8% for animal products.
  • Corn represented 36.3% of the state’s total agricultural production value, followed by soybeans at 26.4%, hogs at 11.4%, poultry and eggs at 10.4% and milk at 5.9%.
  • Overall production expenses rose by 45% since 2007, led by seed cost increases of 80%, fertilizer 63%, chemicals 51% and animal feed 46%.
  • The estimated value of real estate per farm rose by 55% to $1.3 million per farm.
  • Total land in farms declined by 52,788 acres, or 0.4% since 2007, mostly due to urbanization and new infrastructure, such as roads.

More information about the 2012 Census of Agriculture, including data reports, is available on the census Website.

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