2012 Census Results on Beginning Farmers

Gary Keough
USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service

I can now let out the results from the 2012 Census of Agriculture Preliminary Report and what it shows about beginning farmers in Massachusetts. To be honest, the results are a mixture of good news and not so good news. A beginning farmer is anyone with less than 10 years experience on their current farm. Beginning farmers made up 25 percent of all principal farm operators in Massachusetts which is slightly less than the compared to 26 percent in 2007.  We have three categories for beginning farmers, those with 2 years or less, 3 or 4 years, and 5 to 9 years.  For those with 2 years or less there were 328, 2 more than in 2007. For those with 3 or 4 years there were 507, up 65 from 2007.

Now the not so good news, for those with 5 to 9 years there were 1,119, down 130 from 2007. This drop in the 5 to 9 year group was also seen New Hampshire and Maine. The Census of Agriculture doesn’t have any definitive reasons for this decrease. One could reason that some find it difficult to earn a living or the type of work is not to their liking after a few years.

What else was in the 2012 Census of Agriculture Preliminary Report? 

Number of farms at 7,755 was up 1% from 2007. Land in farms at 523,517 was also up 1 percent from 2007. In fact all the New England States had an increase in the number of farms and land in farm. This bucks the nation trend that saw a decrease in both farms and land in farms. The number of women principal farm operators also increased to 2,507. This is 32 percent of all Massachusetts farms, the highest percentage of the New England States and the 3rd highest percentage behind Arizona and Alaska.
The average age for Massachusetts farmers was 57.8 years, up from 56.3 in 2007. Those under 35 accounted for 6 percent of the principal farm operators in Massachusetts, up from 5 percent in 2007.

The preliminary report also has more information about size farms, market value of sales, and farmer race and ethnicity. You can find it at http://www.agcensus.usda.gov. The full report should be released in May, 2014. It will have more information about acreage, livestock inventory, economics, and practices as well as county statistics.