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Latest from Young Farmers

The Results of the USDA Census of Agriculture Are Here!

On Tuesday, February 13, 2024, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) released the results of the 2022 Census of Agriculture. The Census, conducted every five years, is a count of our nation’s farms and ranches and the people who run them, and provides a new outlook on the future of farming in the United States.

Our team was pleased to see a significant increase in young producers in the 2022 data. There was a 7% increase in farmers under 44 with the largest jump being in the youngest producers, under 25 years of age. The farming population is still aging, however, with farmers 65 and older making up over 40% of total farmers.  The average age of a U.S. farmer is now 58.1 years old.  It is clear that our federal farm policy must do more to address barriers to entry for young farmers and farmers of color–like access to land, capital, and USDA programs. 


It is encouraging to see there was an over 10% increase in beginning farmers since 2017. However, most of that increase was in farmers with 6-10 years of farming experience, so there was little growth in new farmers entering the industry since the last Census. Enterprising young people face an uphill battle in establishing themselves in agriculture, given prohibitive land prices, student loan debt, and limited health care options.

There is slightly higher representation of women in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher (BFR) category, which includes producers in their first ten years farming. Forty percent of beginning farmers are women, compared to 36% of all producers. 

However, there are regional variations among beginning farmers. Some states have a larger share of beginning farmers–for example, 41% of farmers in Rhode Island are in their first ten years of farming, compared to the 30% of producers nationally classified as beginning. 


The Census reports 880 million acres of privately held farmland in the U.S., down from 900 million in 2017. This is a loss of 20 million acres or nearly 2.2% of total farmland. This represents the largest loss of farmland, both percentage and acreage-wise, that we have seen between Census reports in the past twenty-five years. 

The number of farms has again decreased while the average size of farms (463 acres) continues to creep upward, indicating that at the same time as we are losing farmland, the remaining farms are continuing to consolidate and get larger, a trend that USDA has written about previously

USDA recognized this concerning trend and at a recent Census release event Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack commented, “This survey is a wake-up call. It’s essentially asking the critical question of whether as a country, we are okay with losing that many farms, okay with losing that much farmland? Or is there a better way?” 

Interestingly, the average farm size for operations that fully own the land they farm is only 230 acres compared to 1,155 and 655 acres for farms that partly or fully rely on leased land, respectively, indicating the role that leasing plays in growing farm sizes. 

The majority of farms are less than 180 acres, with the largest concentration in the 10-49 acre range. This distribution has remained relatively steady since the 2017 Census. The number of farms in every category of farm size decreased, with the biggest numerical and percent change happening in the 1-9 acre category (a loss of 38,733 farms, or 14.2%). The categories with the least change were 10-49 acres and farms over 2,000 acres (-2.8% and -2.1%, respectively). 

Farms with young producers manage 105 million acres, or roughly 12% of all land in farms. Similar to overall data, the farm size category that included the most farms with young producers was 10-49 acres. 

The amount of land and farms where at least one of the producers is a beginning farmer or rancher has ticked up slightly – making a jump of 3 million acres from 193.4 million acres to 196.5 million and an increase of nearly 33,000 farms. This amounts to BFRs participating in the management of roughly 22% of all privately owned agricultural land. Particularly encouragingly, the number of farms and acreage where BFRs were full-owners or part-owners increased while the farms and acreage where they were tenants declined. 

The data indicate that just over two-thirds of farmland is owned by agricultural producers (534 million acres) while nearly 346 million, or 40%, of acres are rented. The number of acres of farmland that are leased increased slightly (.1%) while the number of acres owned decreased. 


The size of farms has gone up from 441 to 463 acres on average, also a trend we have seen in past Census reports. As farms are growing, we are also losing small farms. There was a loss of over 14% of farms under 10 acres, the largest decline across all farm sizes. These small operations function as important incubators for young farmers’ business potential and market access. Overall, farms of less than 180 acres made up almost 70% of all the farms in the country, telling us that smaller farms are really the ones feeding our communities. USDA programs should be tailored to serve small- and mid-sized farms for better customer service and program deliverables. 


In better news, there was an increase in the 2022 Census data in the use of conservation practices. There was a slight increase in acres utilizing no-till methods(+0.7%). There was also an increase in the number of farms using conservation and reduced-till practices (+5.1%), but a slight decrease in the number of acres using these practices (-0.7%). There was also a significant increase in acres in cover crops (16.9%), despite a nominal decrease in the number of farms using cover crops (-0.05%), perhaps due to farm consolidation.  These data show that farmers recognize the importance of climate-smart agricultural practices, and are committed to creating and sustaining a more resilient food system for future generations.


The 2022 Census of Agriculture data show a slight overall decrease in farmers of color, with an 8.1% decrease in Black farmers and a 3.4% decrease in Indigenous farmers. There seems to be some evidence showing impacts of consolidation also among farmers of color, for example, Black-owned farms decreased while Black-owned acres increased. The data clearly demonstrate a need for an intentional focus on land access in the upcoming farm bill, and we will continue to push Congress through our marker bills to do so. Without a sustained focus on equitable agricultural policy implementation, we will continue to witness the obvious and dramatic gaps between the measures of success for farmers or color and white farmers highlighted in this report.

We expected to see more racial diversity in this Census among young and beginning farmers. However, these farmers look a lot like their more tenured counterparts and their racial makeup is very similar to all farmers, which is 95% white. Without a sustained focus on equitable agricultural policy implementation, we will continue to witness the obvious and dramatic gaps between the measures of success for farmers or color and white farmers highlighted in this report. 

The number of women in farming remained relatively stable from 2017 to 2022. There was a small decline in the number of women farming, but overall that decline was relatively the same as the overall decline in number of producers and farms. However, there is a larger proportion of beginning farmers that are women. Forty percent of beginning farmers are women, compared to 36% of all farmers. There was also an increase in the number of acres that have a woman producer. So women are improving slightly when it comes to entering agriculture, accessing land, and increasing their farm size. However, women still only represent 36% of producers and operate farms that are about ¾ the size of their male counterparts. And only men and women are reported on the Ag Census, so we have no information on producers who identify as nonbinary, agender, or other gender identities. 

We know the Census of Agriculture does not reach or capture the experience or breadth of all farmers, and farmworkers are particularly invisible in the Census-data gathering process, which is part of why we conduct our own National Young Farmer Survey every five years. We are committed to telling the stories of young farmers in the United States beyond the data points. The questions we are able to ask about their experiences, and the qualitative data we can collect through that survey are important to understand the full picture, but USDA Census data is an important and long-standing source of metrics. 

In light of the insights from the 2022 Census of Agriculture, it is clear that the path forward for agriculture must be paved with policies that not only acknowledge but actively address, the multifaceted challenges faced by today’s farmers. From the underrepresentation of Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) farmers, to the aging farmer population to the decline in small farms, and the barriers to entry for new producers, each issue underscores the critical need for comprehensive agricultural policy reform. Want to get involved in advocating for a farm bill that will better serve the next generation? Join our Farm Bill Action Network today.

The National Young Farmers Coalition is committed to advocating for a future where agriculture is inclusive, equitable, and sustainable. As we continue working on this farm bill and beyond, our focus will remain steadfast on ensuring that beginning farmers, regardless of their background or the size of their operation, have the support they need to thrive. This includes pushing for equitable land access, addressing the climate crisis, ensuring affordability and accessibility of USDA resources, and championing policies that recognize and rectify historical injustices in our agricultural system. Only by embracing these changes can we hope to foster a resilient food system that supports both our farmers and the communities they serve. Together, we can cultivate a future that honors the legacy of those who have farmed before us while laying the groundwork for a vibrant, diverse, and sustainable agricultural landscape for generations to come.
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