By Steven Manheimer, Arizona State Statistician, USDA-National Agricultural Statistics Service
On February 20, after several years of diligent work, the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) published the results from the 2012 Census of Agriculture. The report included items such as number of farms, land in farms, market value of agricultural products and demographic and operator characteristics. The full Census report, which will include commodity data at the U.S., State and county level, will follow in May, 2014.
Overall, the 2012 Census of Agriculture was a great success because of the hard work of many people but most importantly, this success could not have been possible without the participation of Arizona’s farmers and ranchers. NASS conducts many surveys throughout the year and the information gathered helps everyone from producers, to agribusinesses, farm organizations and academia. But, without the help from U.S. farmers and ranchers, none of this would be possible.
First, what is the Census of Agriculture? The U.S. Census of Agriculture has been conducted for more than a century. Today, NASS publishes Census results every five years. The Census results provide the most comprehensive picture of the state of American agriculture. All farms that have at least $1,000 in real or potential livestock or crop sales are counted in the Census. In addition to collecting data about farming and ranching operations, the Census gathers detailed farm operator characteristics to help paint a picture about the types of people involved with agriculture and their business structure. NASS also collects detailed economic data to monitor the huge economic contribution made by agriculture. The Census results get published at the national, state and county level. For the 2012 Census, it took almost two years to collect and analyze responses from more than 2 million producers in the United States.
The 2012 Census of Agriculture continued USDA’s focus on trying to include new farms that historically have been undercounted or have been very difficult to count, including minority-operated farms, young farmers new to agriculture, small producers of specialty commodities and organic operations. These extra efforts were especially noticeable in Arizona, which has the highest number of American Indian farmers in the United States. The total number of American Indian farms in Arizona rose to more than 11,000, which means an American Indian operator runs more than half of all farms in the state. These farms cover almost 21 million acres of land, which is nearly 80 percent of all land in farms for Arizona.
What are some of the trends in the new Census report? County-level information is not yet available but statewide, the number of farms increased to just over 20,000 farms. Most of this increase is in the small farm category defined as operations with sales less than $50,000 and American Indian farmers and ranchers.
In our state, as well as in the rest of the United States, the average farmer is getting older. The average age of farmers and ranchers in Arizona is 61 years old. The number of young farmers (under 25 years old) rose but still made up less than one percent of all farms.
The market value of all agricultural products was significant and totaled $3.7 billion with crops and nursery representing $2.1 billion and livestock and poultry at $1.6 billion. In 2007, the total market value was $3.2 billion.
What else can be said about Arizona agriculture? The agriculture base in the Copper State is truly unique. It is not easy to try to construct a picture of the average Arizona farmer or rancher. Like several other western states, Arizona agriculture benefits from large irrigation projects and vast acreages of federal and state lands where livestock grazing is allowed as a primary use. In addition, the weather plays an important role in allowing Arizona to supply the nation with winter vegetables otherwise unavailable in most areas of the country. The huge difference between agriculture on reservations and agriculture outside reservation boundaries also plays a role in making it difficult to generalize about Arizona agriculture. However, one thing seems certain to continue. Arizona farmers and ranchers will continue to face challenges with water, weather and the economics of farming and ranching. NASS will continue its role in providing quality data to help producers make sound decisions.
For more information on the Census of Agriculture or other NASS reports, please visit www.agcensus.gov or call the Phoenix office at 602-280-8850.