Insights News

2017 Census of Agriculture: Beginning farmers see a rebound

markie hageman


We seem to be experiencing a turnaround for those who are classified as beginning farmers. A little over a decade ago, in 2007, there were 652,820, and that number fell to 522,058 for the 2012 Census of Agriculture. Today, that has rebounded. The most recent Census of Agriculture reports that in 2017, there were 674,940 principal beginning farmers and 908,274 new farmers. The data was released on April 11.

Beginning farmers are defined as those having 10 years or less experience in the field. In 2017, only 27 percent of producers were considered “beginning.” Their average age was 46.3 years, while in 2012 it was reported that farmers had an average age of 58.3 years. Of all producers surveyed, the average age of farmers is 57.5 years old.

Barriers to entry are a major player in the reason why people aren’t looking to start a farm. Barriers include various factors, such as costs of farming. Many beginning farmers can’t afford to live off their farming operation alone, and this shows in the increase of off-the-farm-jobs as a primary occupation. The numbers were 58 percent in 2017 versus 51 percent in 2012. This could be caused by the fact that beginning farmers are operating smaller farms with less acres and less sales.

The top 10 states with beginning farmers has changed from 2012 as well. Back then, Alaska, Rhode Island, Hawaii, Maine, Florida, Vermont, Washington, New Hampshire, California, and Texas were the top states in that respective order. In 2017, the demographics have changed with Alaska, Georgia, Maine, Hawaii, Florida, Rhode Island, West Virginia, New Hampshire, and Colorado making the list.

Other data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture related to beginning farmers include:

  • 418,547 new producers are were full owners of their farm, while 369,983 new principal producers had full ownership of their operation.
  • 189,342 new producers ran beef cattle operations, the largest of the listed farm types. On the other end of the scale, 816 new producers farmed tobacco.
  • 115,292 new producers operated farms between 1 and 9 acres, while 58,944 producers operated on 500 or more acres.


Markie Hageman majored in agribusiness at Fort Hays State University. She is actively involved in her state Cattlemen’s Association, Young Farmers chapter, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Her articles can be found here.

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