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2012 Census of Agriculture shows number of farms decline, market values on the rise

By Mitchell Walbridge

Mon, May 19th, 2014
Posted in All Agriculture

The Minnesota statistics of the 2012 Census of Agriculture may be on the spectrum of suprising to concerning, depending on how you interpret them. The census is completed every five years with a wide range of data collected; everything from what agricultural products were raised in the United States within a given year, where the products were raised, in what quantity and details about by whom the products were grown.

All of the information is compiled by reports on the national, state and county levels. Minnesota Commissioner of Agriculture Dave Frederickson said, “Census data provides the foundation of information needed to design programs and initiatives that support agriculture and serve the farmers across Minnesota.”

The 2012 data revealed some interesting statistics and trends on Minnesota farming, including data for the counties of Fillmore and Houston.

Quantity of Farms

The number of farms in Minnesota fell to 74,542 for 2012, down 8 percent from 2007. From previous reports of 1997, 2002, and 2007, this is a change in the trend as farm numbers increased between each of those years. Then number of farms in Fillmore County fell from 1,667 in 2007 to 1,553 in 2012. Similarly, Houston County’s farms fell from 1,041 in 2007 to 920 in 2012.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “A farm is defined as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the Census year.”

Land in Farms

Land for the purpose of farming totaled 26 million acres in 2012, down 3 percent from 2007. Decreased land used for pastures and wood land offset the gains in cropland harvested acres.

Fillmore and Houston counties contributed to the 3 percent decrease. Fillmore County saw a decrease from 446,331 acres in 2007 to 422,484 in 2012. Houston County saw a decrease from 244,404 acres in 2007 to 229,226 acres in 2012.

From the most recent data the average size of farms in Fillmore County is 272 acres and 249 acres in Houston County.

Market Values

In spite of the fewer number of farms and less land area, the market value of agricultural products sold increased 61 percent since 2007. This increase exists even after production expenses increased 50 percent. The 2012 Census reports that after an increase of net cash farm income, the average net income per farm in Minnesota was $94,345.

Notable increases existed for both counties’ average net cash farm income of operation. Fillmore County up more than $17,000 since 2007 and Houston County up more than $25,000 since 2007.

Fewer Farms, Fewer Farmers

As reported earlier in this article, fewer farms in Minnesota and less land for agriculture use can only lead one to the the logical question: Are there fewer farmers?

Indeed, this seems to be the case, at least for both Fillmore and Houston counties. In 2007, Fillmore County reported having 834 principal farm operators as their primary occupation. Houston County reported having 465. The 2012 data revealed that Fillmore County’s principal farm operators as their primary occupation dropped to 783; Houston’s dropped to 446.

Two items should be considered when tracking these numbers into the future. First, the average age of the principal operator of farms in the 2012 Census was 56.6 years old. Second, those who are considered beginning farmers, farmers who have operated a farm for less than 10 years, account for only 17 percent of principal operators in Minnesota.

The role of women as principal operators has also dropped since the 2007 Census. The decrease was from 7,361 to 6,370.

Other Statistics

•Fillmore County ranks fifth in the top 10 counties for number of farms in Minnesota..

•The estimated average market value per farm (including land and buildings) in Fillmore County is $1,248,138, while the Houston County’s estimated average market value per farm is $860,452.

•Average estimated market value per acre in Fillmore County is $4,588; Houston County is $3,453.

“The 2012 Census of Agriculture provides a wide range of demographic, economic, land, and crop and livestock production information,” said Dan Lofthus, State Statistician for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Minnesota Field Office. “Many of these data about Minnesota and our counties are only collected and reported as part of the every-five-year census.”

For more information on the 2012 Census, any previous census, or other information related to the USDA, visit

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