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Census provides snapshot of U.S. agriculture

Data shows farmland, number of farms decreased from 2017 to 2022

In the five-year span from 2017 to 2022, farms in the U.S. have gotten larger while the total number has gotten smaller, according to new Census of Agriculture data released by USDA last month.

With a loss of nearly 142,000 farms, the number of U.S. farms fell below 2 million for the first time, down to 1.9 million, in the 2022 census. This drop mostly hit small- and medium-sized farms, with large farms up slightly. Average farm size increased to 463 acres compared to 441 in 2017, but total farmland decreased by 2% to 880 million acres, a loss of about 20 million acres.

“This survey is a wake-up call,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said while releasing the data at a USDA livestream event on Feb. 13. “It’s essentially asking the critical question of whether, as a country, we are OK with losing that many farms, OK with losing that much farmland? Or is there a better way? That’s the importance of this survey. It allows us to begin asking ourselves questions about the policy formation and the direction that we need to take.”

The Ag Census is taken every five years to provide a snapshot of American farmers and their operations. It provides valuable insights into demographics, economics, land use and activities on U.S. farms. The data is used by policymakers to help determine local funding for a range of USDA programs as well as highlight the needs of farmers and ranchers going forward. The 2022 census had a response rate of 61%, according to USDA.

While the number of producers held steady in the latest census, the average age of a farmer ticked up again to 58.1, compared to 57.5 years in 2017, pointing to the need for more young people to join the profession, Vilsack said.

“We continue to see the aging nature of our farming community,” he said. “We recognize the importance of making the case to bright young people about the career opportunities and the chances that you have to make a fundamental difference in agriculture and food.”

Even with the rising average age of farmers, there was an 11% increase in the number of beginning farmers compared to 2017. Just over 1 million farmers reported 10 or fewer years of experience, and they’re younger than all farmers, with an average age of 47.1.

The census showed increased adoption of renewable energy projects such as solar panels, up nearly 30% to 116,700 farms, and wind turbines, up 2% to 14,500 farms. Farms with internet access also continued to rise from 75% in 2017 to 79% in 2022.

Other highlights from the 2022 survey include:
• Family-owned and operated farms accounted for 95% of all U.S. farms and operated 84% of land in farms.
• U.S. farms and ranches produced $543 billion in agricultural products, up from $389 billion in 2017. With farm production expenses of $424 billion, U.S. farms had a total net cash income of $152 billion. Average farm income rose to $79,790.
• A total of 105,384 operations had sales of $1 million or more, representing 6% of U.S. farms, 31% of farmland and more than three-fourths of all agricultural products. The 1.4 million farms with sales of $50,000 or less accounted for 74% of farms, 25% of farmland and 2% of sales.
• Nearly three-fourths of farmland was used by oilseed and grain farms (32%) and beef cattle operations (40%).
• The number of farmers under age 35 was 296,480 or 9% of all producers. The 221,233 farms with young producers making decisions tend to be larger than average in both acres and sales.
• In 2022, there were 1.2 million female farmers, accounting for 36% of all producers, and 58% of all farms had at least one female decision maker.

More details from the 2022 census are available online at nass.usda.gov/AgCensus.



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