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2012 Census of Agriculture: Preliminary Highlights for Kansas

Agricultural production in Kansas is following similar trends to national data, according to the latest census.
Posted on Mar. 3rd, 2014
Katie Allen
K-State Extension
Preliminary data from the 2012 census of agriculture, released Feb. 20, shows that Kansas is following many of the national trends—fewer farms, less land in farms, more diverse and older principal farm operators, and an increased value of agricultural production.
TOPEKA, Kan. – In 1840, the first census of agriculture was conducted in the United States, in conjunction with the population census. That first census, which included 26 states and the District of Columbia, showed that about 70 percent of the population reported being engaged in agriculture, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Sixty years later, in 1900, more than 60 percent of the U.S. population lived in rural areas. The USDA's current estimates ( show that about 2 percent of the U.S. population farms for a living, and only 17 percent live in rural areas.

The census of agriculture was once conducted every 10 years, but the USDA now conducts it every five years. The 2012 census of agriculture preliminary data was released Feb. 20. The data shows that Kansas is following many of the national trends—fewer farms, less land in farms, more diverse and older principal farm operators, and an increased value of agricultural production. So, despite having less land and resources, U.S. farmers and ranchers have increased production over time.

"The Census of Agriculture is a complete accounting of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them," said Jason Lamprecht, Kansas' state statistician of the Northern Plains Region for the USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). "We mailed out more than 3 million questionnaires across the United States for the 2012 census of agriculture in late December 2012."

A farm is, according to the USDA, any place that produced or had the potential to produce at least $1,000 of agricultural products during the census year. Respondents were required by law to complete the questionnaire, either by mail or online. The USDA made phone calls and a few field visits to those who hadn't yet completed their information.

Lamprecht said he knows it takes a lot time to fill out the questionnaires, especially for diverse or large operations, and he appreciates all of the farmers and ranchers, particularly those in the state of Kansas, for filling them out.

"If it wasn't for them, we wouldn't be able to put out a census like this together for decisions to be made correctly, to be able to use the real data to make decisions at federal, state and local government levels," he said. "Businesses use the data to decide whether they are going to expand, change or move geographically. I hope some of the farmers and ranchers are using this data to also make decisions on their operation."

Preliminary highlights for Kansas and the United States

Amount of land in farms:
In the United States, between 2007 and 2012, the amount of land in farms declined by less than one percent, from 922 million acres to 915 million. While continuing a downward trend, this is the third smallest decline between censuses since 1950 and is within the margin of error.
The amount of land in farms in Kansas declined by less than one percent between 2007 and 2012, from 46.35 million acres to 46.14.

Number of farms:

The United States had 2.1 million farms, down 4.3 percent, in 2012. For farm size by acres, the decline continued a downward trend in mid-sized farms, while the smallest- and largest-size farms held steady.
Kansas had 61,773 farms in 2012, down 5.7 percent from 2007. For farm size by acres, all size categories declined, with the largest declines in the mid-sized farms (180 to 999 acres), down 10.2 percent. The largest-size farms showed the smallest decrease, down only 26 farms.

Principal farm operators:

Demographic changes were evident when comparing the 2007 census of agriculture to the 2012 preliminary data for the United States. There were fewer female operators, fewer beginning operators, fewer small farms, more minority operators and more operators reporting farming as a primary occupation in 2012. The average age of a principal farm operator in the United States was 58.3 years, up 1.2 years from 2007, and continuing a 30-year trend of steady increase.
According to the 2012 census, and similar to the national trends, principal farm operators in Kansas are becoming older and more diverse. The average age of a Kansas principal farm operator was 58.2 years, up 0.5 year from 2007. Again, more minority-operated farms were accounted for in 2012 than in 2007 in Kansas. Currently, about 2 percent of Kansas' farms are minority-operated.
Contrary to the national data, there were fewer operators reporting farming as the primary occupation in Kansas, from 30,873 in 2007 to 29,857 in 2012, a 3 percent decline. But, those reporting something other than farming as their primary occupation also dropped more in those five years, down 8 percent, to 31,916.
Kansas' women principal operators dropped 15 percent, from 7,943 in 2007 to 6,783 in 2012. In Kansas, female operator average age was 62.9, down from 2007 but still 4.7 years older than all Kansas farmers.
Value of agricultural products sold:
In 2012 in the United States, the value of agricultural products sold totaled $394.6 billion, up 33 percent ($97.4 billion) from 2007. For only the second time in census history, crop sales ($212.4 billion) exceeded livestock sales ($182.2 billion).
In 2012 in Kansas, the value of agriculture products sold totaled $18.5 billion, up 28 percent ($14.4 billion) from 2007. Livestock sales accounted for the majority of agriculture products sold, at 62 percent, while crop sales accounted for 38 percent in 2012.

The data showed changes on how states ranked in number of farms from 2007 to 2012. The top five states in 2007 included Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma and Kentucky. The 2012 data is the same, other than California replaced Kentucky in the fifth spot. Kansas remained at No. 12.

The top five states in 2007 for value of agricultural production included California, Texas, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. In 2012, Kansas slipped to the sixth spot, as it was replaced by Minnesota for fifth.

Kansas remained in the top 10 states for value of crops sold. It was ranked 10th in 2007 and moved up to ninth in 2012. The top five states for both years included California, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska.

For value of livestock sold, Kansas remained in the top five states. It was fourth in 2007 and fell to fifth in 2012, behind Nebraska. The top five states for livestock for both 2007 and 2012 included Texas, Iowa, California, Nebraska and Kansas.

A closer look at the data

Brian Briggeman, associate professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, said it is not surprising that the 2012 census of agriculture preliminary data shows that Kansas' trends in farming and ranching are similar to the national trends. Farmers are getting older, and they are becoming more efficient in meeting the agricultural production needs of a growing world population that is expected to surpass 9 billion by 2050.

"There's a reason all of these numbers changed over time," Briggeman said. "For farmers looking at retirement, they are asking themselves, 'Where am I going to get the returns that I am getting now from agriculture?' Furthermore, with all of the technological gains, GPS (global positioning system) and auto-steer, for example, there is less wear and tear on a farmer operator."

Briggeman, who teaches an ag finance course, said many young people are looking forward to getting into production agriculture. He has even witnessed people who have left the farm, graduated from college, went into the workforce, and who are now either back working at the family farm or are wanting to get back.

"I graduated in 2000 from Kansas State, and that was not the sentiment in the classroom at that time," he said. "Now, there's a real interest of people who want to go back to the farm or ranch."

Lamprecht points out that 2012 was a drought year in Kansas and several other states, which might have played a role in how the data turned out. The final 2012 census of agriculture report will be available in May.

"We're very eager to get that final report out," Lamprecht said. "You're going to see things like a breakdown of crops by county, breakdown of livestock by county, production and value of sales."

Also in the final report will be information such as Internet use on farms and ranches, land-use practices, agroforestry, and even specialty crop and livestock estimates, to name a few.

More information and all of the preliminary census of agriculture numbers for 2012 can be found at, or call the NASS Topeka office at 785-233-2230.


K-State Research and Extension is a short name for the Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service, a program designed to generate and distribute useful knowledge for the well-being of Kansans. Supported by county, state, federal and private funds, the program has county Extension offices, experiment fields, area Extension offices and regional research centers statewide. Its headquarters is on the K-State campus, Manhattan.


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