May 5, 2014

Census shows fewer, larger farms

Number of Cass farms drops 20 percent

by Sarah Einselen News editor

---- — Cass County farms are growing fewer and larger, according to census data released Friday.

The 2012 U.S. Census of Agriculture county-level data shows the number of Cass County farms dropped to 688 in 2012 from a total of 868 in 2007. The Census of Agriculture is conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture every five years.

The average size of a Cass County farm grew almost 11 percent to 291 acres, while the median size of a farm, 63 acres, was 26 percent larger than in 2007.

Total farmland acreage in Cass County shrunk, however, by about 12 percent to 200,257 acres.

The data released Friday came as no surprise to Dave Forgey, a longtime Cass County farmer and current president of the Cass County Farm Bureau.

Agriculture has been trending toward larger farms for some time, Forgey said, making it more of a challenge for smaller farms to remain competitive.

“While there are a lot of small farms around, nearly all of those farmers tend to have a second job,” he said. And “it’s getting almost impossible” to begin farming without help from a senior farmer or family member who is getting out of farming, he added.

With skyrocketing land values — the average value of an acre of farmland in 2012 had risen 51 percent since 2007 to $5,412, according to the Census of Agriculture — and a similar rise in cash rents for farm acreage, the odds of starting out as a farmer without first joining an existing entity are getting slimmer, he said.

The average age of farms’ principal operators crept up again as well to 57.3 years old.

Some of the local trends mirror national ones. Coast to coast, the average age of a principal farm operator was 58.3 years, up 1.2 years since 2007, and continuing a 30-year trend of steady increase.

In 2012, the U.S. had 2.1 million farms — down 4.3 percent from the previous Census in 2007. Measuring farm size by acres, the data showed a continuing overall downward trend in mid-sized farms, while the smallest and largest-size farms held steady nationally.

Forgey attributed the decrease in farmed acreage locally to recent development in rural areas, particularly road and housing construction. However, some farmland may be reclaimed in the future, he added, with the use of no-till farming practices that reduce the likelihood of erosion.

Between 2007 and 2012, the amount of land in farms nationwide continued a slow downward trend, declining from 922 million acres to 915 million. That wasa decline of less than 1 percent and was the third smallest decline between censuses since 1950.

Conducted since 1840, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. More information about the census is available at

Reach Sarah Einselen at or 574-732-5151.

Snapshot: A look at 2012 numbers for Cass County farms • 688 farms • 200,257 acres of farmland • 291 acres on average farm, 63 acres on median farm • $1.575 million average market value of land and buildings • $5,412 average market value per acre • Average age of principal farm operator 57.3 years Source: 2012 Census of Agriculture