The 2012 Census of Agriculture won’t be released for some time, and it has been six years since the 2007 Census of Agriculture was issued, so those of us who are supporting local agriculture initiatives are dying to get our hands on current information about new farmers. Fortunately, the USDA has just released a report entitled Beginning Farmers and Ranchers At A Glance, 2013 Edition.  Based on data collected from their Agricultural Resource Management Survey in 2011, we can begin to piece together some facts about beginning farmers.

beginning farmersTo begin, what are their specialties? As indicated in the graph to the right, beginning farms generally are involved in the same specialty areas as established farms. However, note that there is a significant decrease in the percentage of beginning farms going into ‘Grain and row crops’ and a significant increase in those going into ‘General and other livestock’, which is defined as “those where no single commodity accounts for 50% of the total value of production.” Are we seeing the beginning of a return to more diversified farms?

The report highlights the way that beginning farms have been marketing farm products. During the reporting period, 19% of beginning farms sold directly to individual consumers (e.g. CSAs, roadside stands, and farmers markets). Only 3% sold  to local retail intermediaries (which sell to restaurants, grocery stores, and institutions). The report states that beginning farms which sold directly to consumers rather than to intermediaries were less likely to make a profit.

beginner farmer incomeAs to earning a living, the report stated that “beginning farm households received less farm income and more  off-farm income than established farms regardless of farm size.” In addition to off-farm work, beginning farms worked an average of 1,071 hours per year on the farm (equivalent to a half-time job), while established farms worked an average of 1,344 hours on the farm.

Access to land may be having a big impact on farm specialty, farm size, and profitability. The report states that most beginning farmers purchase land, rather than inheriting it. Not surprisingly, beginning farm operators have lower farm and nonfarm net worth and lower debt repayment capacity. Additionally, government support of beginning farmers has been lower than that of established farmers.

All of these are factors  will need to consider as we try to replace the thousands of farmers expected to retire in the next decade.