It’s hard to imagine a more patriotic bunch than American farmers, and there’s good reason for that. With the release of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s 2017 Census of Agriculture, a new category of study was unveiled — Producers with Military Service. A new item to the census project as of 2017, the query tracks producers and operators who have previously or currently serve in the U.S. Armed Forces. Given how new the item is for study, no past data is available for compare, but it’s hard to imagine the spirit of George Washington himself not beaming down on his nation’s progress into the 21st century with 370,019 veterans working as producers and stewards of the land.
In 2017, 351,647 men and 18,972 women claimed the title U.S. veteran while serving their nation as producers of agricultural products ranging from corn and beans to cattle and hay. A total of 7,996 served as herd managers for farms, and some 264,240 lived on the farms they operated. Of the group, 192,993 listed farming as their primary occupation, with 106,043 stating they’d worked 200 days or more on their farm the year prior.
The veteran farmers are also a relatively seasoned group, with 294,974 having spent more than 10 years on their farm, compared to just 14,566 with less than two years’ experience. Likewise, Vietnam War-era veterans dominate the group, with 108,051 over the age of 75 and 149,983 between the ages 65 and 74. Those under the age of 25 numbered 548 across the entire nation. The average age of veteran farmers was 67.9, a full decade older than the U.S. overall average of farmers.
By race and ethnicity, the veteran farmers claimed White ancestry in numbers of 350,565; 8,911 African-American; 1,258 Asian; 5,763 Native American or Alaska Native; and 386 Native Hawaiian.
Across the country, 129,144,965 acres were farmed by veterans on 365,393 farms, with the most common size being between 10 and 49 acres at 111,009. In total, the market value of agricultural products produced on these farms totaled nearly $42 billion, with about $21 billion of that coming from crops and $18 billion in livestock. Beef cattle production was the most common form claimed with 115,700 farms or ranches active in that endeavor, followed by the category “Sugar cane, hay farming and other” with nearly 70,000.
And if it needed to be mentioned — don’t mess with Texas, the state with the largest number by far of veterans farming. A total of 52,357 producers with military service worked some 50,004 farms spanning 19,249,176 acres in that state, far and away the largest number across the nation. The state of Missouri came in second with 19,419 producers on 18,684 farms with 4,621,270 acres. Every state and territory had at least a handful, with even tiny Rhode Island bringing 201 farms with 209 veterans on 12,339 acres to the table.
For those familiar with the profession it’s no wonder more than 10 percent of U.S. farmers double as veterans of the military. Born from the agrarian traditions as colonies freed by revolution and spread by way of Manifest Destiny, the soldier-farmer is as American a tradition as the musket and Minute Men who carried them. Whether as planters along the original Thirteen Colonies, or veterans crossing through wilderness trails out west, the relationship between military service and farming go hand in hand all the way back to the beginning. Yes indeed, old George Washington would be proud.
Brian Boyce is an award-winning writer living on a farm in west-central Indiana. You can see more of his work at www.boycegroupinc.com.