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On May 2, 2014, the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (USDA-NASS) released the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The Census of Agriculture (COA) is the most comprehensive source of data portraying our nation’s agriculture over time. The COA is conducted every five years by USDA-NASS and is used by government agencies, policymakers, producers, farm and ranch organizations, and state and local governments to plan for agriculture and to implement farm related programs and policies. The COA is a reliable source for a variety of agricultural data-notably production and operator characteristics-on the national, state and county levels.

The COA is critical to farmland protection advocates because it:

• Helps us understand the extent of agriculture and how much land supports the current level of production. Nationwide, 2.1 million farms cover 914,527,657 acres. Farmers and ranchers manage 40.5 percent of the U.S. total land area.

• Provides information about the economic health of farm and ranch operations. In 2012, farms and ranches generated more than $394.6 billion in agricultural sales, up 32.8 percent from 2007. Farm production expenses also increased by about $88 billion. Overall, U.S. farms still realized a $92 billion increase in net cash income, which was up 29.3 percent from 2007.

• Tracks information about farm operator age and the amount of land they own. The average age of operators is now 58.3. There are nearly six times as many operators 65 and older as 34 and younger. Older operators farm 32 percent of U.S. agricultural land and own 73 percent of these acres.

• Gives us data about the next generation of farmers. The number and percentage of beginning farmers has reached a 30-year low. Just between 2007 and 2012, the number of beginners dropped 20 percent to 469,098.

AFT’s Farmland Information Center staff will examine a range of topics from the 2012 Census of Agriculture.