Vilsack concerned about future of agriculture and food production.

Joshua Baethge, Policy editor

February 13, 2024

2 Min Read
Tom Vilsack speaks in front of crowd
NEW DATA: U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announces the results of the 2022 Census of Agriculture at USDA in Washington, D.C.USDA photo by Tom Witham

U.S. farmland declined by nearly 20 million acres between 2017 and 2022. That’s according to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, which was released on Tuesday. As of 2022, there were 880.1 million acres of land dedicated to farming, compared to 900.1 million in 2017.

The data shows there are now a little more than 1.9 million farms in the country. This is 142,000 fewer farms than reported in the previous survey, a number equal to all current farms in New England excluding Connecticut.

Those farmland losses continue a downward trend that has been ongoing for decades. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack notes the U.S. has now lost well over a half-million farms since the early 1980s. He says those numbers make him concerned about the state of agriculture and food production.

“This survey is essentially telling us, asking us the critical question of whether as a country are we okay with losing that many farms,” Vilsack says. “Are we okay with losing that much farmland, or is there a better way?”

According to him, the better way to help farmers generate additional revenue is through initiatives like climate smart agriculture and bioproduct production. The census shows that the majority of farmers currently rely on second incomes outside of farming.

“My hope is that what we do here is we sent a strong message that we think there is an opportunity if they will join us in creating a different model,” Vilsack says. “One that acknowledges and recognizes the importance of production agriculture, and certainly acknowledges the significant investment people have made in very large farming operation. But one that also sends a message of hope and opportunity out to smaller and mid-sized operators by giving them multiple sources of revenue coming in from the farm and not require them to work essentially in a second full time job.”

Vilsack said another priority should be bringing more young people into agriculture. According to the census, the average farmer age is 58.1 years old. Less than 20% of the nation’s farmers are under 45.

Fewer young people in agriculture often leads to shrinking rural communities. Addressing young people attending his census-release announcement at USDA headquarters, the Secretary said he hoped they would take on that responsibility and understand the significance and magnitude of the situation.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service conducts a census every five years. For reporting purposes, “farms” are classified as any operation that sells at least $1,000 of goods per year. The massive undertaking includes statistical data covering vast amounts of economic, demographic and commodity information.

The next census of agriculture will be conducted in 2027.

About the Author(s)

Joshua Baethge

Policy editor, Farm Progress

Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.

Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.

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