Census Shows Over 3 Million Farm Operators Run 2 Million U.S. Farms

First overview of 2002 Census of Agriculture reveals new findings in demographics of U.S. farming community.

According to the 2002 Census of Agriculture, the United States has more than the common statement of 2 million farmers. Some 62.3% of all farms reported only one operator but, in total, 3,115,172 operators were identified on the 2,128,982 farms.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service conducts a census every five years. Prior to 1997 the findings focused more on demographic data for only the "principal" operator. However, for the 2002 Census of Agriculture information was collected for the first time on the total number of operators on each farm, and demographic information for the first three operators.

The findings illustrate that the percentages of farms reporting multiple operators vary greatly by state, and without definite regional patterns. Six states, Arizona, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Vermont, and Wyoming, reported that over half of all farms had multiple farm operators. Ten states, Alabama, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, North Dakota, and South Carolina, reported that less than one third of their farms had multiple operators.

While the average age of principal operators was 55.3 years of age, the average age of second operators was 49.5 years and the average age of third operators was 41.9 years. The age distributions of second and third operators are significantly different than those of principal operators. Instead of the 26.2% of principal operators who are 65 years or older, the comparative figures are 12.9% of second operators and 11.0% of third operators. Instead of the 5.8% of principal operators who are under 35 years of age, 11.8% of second operators and 35.7% of third operators are in the younger age categories.

Of the operators, some 847,832 were women. The number of women principal operators increased by 13.4% from the 1997 Census of Agriculture to 2002, in line with the double digit increases in all recent censuses of agriculture. Women operators are 11.2% of principal operators but 27.2% of all operators. The average age of women principal operators declined from 57.2 years in 1997 to 56.7 years in 2002. The average ages of women second and third operators in 2002 were 50.3 and 45.2 years, respectively.

The majority of farms report a male principal operator and a female second operator (65.4%). The next most common combination is a male principal operator and a male second operator (22.1%), followed by a female principal operator and a male second operator (10.7%). The least common operating relationship was two female operators (1.9%).

To view tables or read a summary of the 2002 Census of Agriculture findings, click HERE.

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