2017 Ag Census: Who Is Running the Farm?


Who runs American farms? As anyone who has been involved in any modern, multi-generational operation can tell you, the answer is not always simple. The 2017 Census of Agriculture set out to capture more of the nuance of who the American farmer is and who is involved in all stages of farm and ranch decision making.

The number of female producers leaped nearly 27% compared to when the census was last taken five years earlier. The 2017 survey reported 1.23 million women involved in decision making in farm and ranch operations compared to less than a million in 2012. Thirty-six percent of the 3.4 million producers counted in the census are women. USDA is quick to point out that the increase is likely not from a dramatic shift of women to the farm, but rather from the Census’ concerted effort to “better represent all people involved in farm decision making.”

 And that decision making is being spread across the family with both genders and all age groups playing similar roles. While men continue to dominate land use and crop decisions, female producers share financial decision making categories nearly equally according to the survey.



The new effort to account for everyone who is involved in an operation reflects a dramatic shift in the number of producers involved in each farm.  In 2012, 786,000 farms reported two producers leading the operation. By the 2017 census, that number jumped to 931,000. The number of single-producer operations saw a corresponding drop.

The average U.S. farmer continues to get older.  The average farmer, now 57.5 years old, is more than a year older than the 2012 average. The average primary operator is nearly 60.  Only 8% of farmers are 35 or younger.

Beginning farmers with less than 10 years experience make up 27% of U.S. producers.  On average, these new farmers are 46 years old. The state of Alaska is seeing a boom in beginning farmers with 46% of their operators falling in that category.

A vast majority of farmers (61%) also work off-farm. Only 42% report farming as their primary occupation.

Farming as an occupation still lags in diversity: 95% of the total are white. Hispanics make up the largest minority group at 3%. American Indians/Alaska Natives are next at 1.7% followed by black farmers at 1.3%.

And the census finds that farm families continue to serve their country at a disproportionately high rate.  More than 370,000 producers, or 11% of the total, have served or were currently serving in the U.S. military in 2017.

2017 Ag Census: Who Is Running the Farm?