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February 21, 2014

Ag census shows boom in farm sales

WASHINGTON, D.C. — American agriculture has experienced a boom, with market values of crops, livestock and total agricultural products reaching record highs even as the amount of U.S. farmland declined, according to a new government survey.

Continuing a long-term trend, the number of U.S. farms dropped to 2.1 million in 2012, about a 4 percent drop from five years earlier. But some of the bigger farms got bigger. The average farm grew from 418 to 434 acres.

The state with the most farms was Texas, which saw the number of farms increase slightly over the five years. Still, it lost about 200,000 farmland acres over the same period. The survey, taken every five years and released Thursday, shows some growth in nontraditional elements of agriculture.

While the industry is still overwhelmingly white, there's been a rise in the number of minority-operated farms. And there are more farms in New England and many states in the Mountain West, while that number has declined in many states in traditional farm country. In Connecticut, for example, the number of farms jumped by 22 percent over the five years. George Krivda, legislative program manager at the state Department of Agriculture, attributes the increase in part to rising demand for locally grown food.

"All of it is great, and it all speaks to the average consumer who's more in touch with where food comes," he said. All told, U.S. farms sold nearly $395 billion in products in 2012, a third more than five years earlier.

That averaged to about $187,000 per farm — or an increase of $52,000 over 2007 totals. In Montana, Department of Agriculture Director Ron de Yong said crop prices have fallen since 2012. "It's part of the cycle, and we should cycle back up again," he said. While most of farm country is getting older — the average farmer is 58.3 years old — more people under the age of 34 are trying their hand at farming.

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