Every five years, the USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service oversees the Census of Agriculture. Begun in 1840, the most recent census was in 2007.
Though definitions have changed since the first such census, “they’re still comparable,” said Becky Cross, director of Arkansas’ NASS field office, at the recent Arkansas State University Agribusiness Conference in Jonesboro, Ark. The census “tells us where agricultural commodities are grown and is a valuable resource to ag suppliers and ag businesses as well as researchers and anyone interested in agriculture.
“For example, the census might provide an investor some clue as to where they want to place a biodiesel or ethanol plant based on the corn or soybeans grown in the area.”
Early- to mid-1900s
The 1910 Census of Agriculture showed Arkansas had over 200,000 farms (compared to just over the current 49,000 farms) on 17.4 million acres.
“We had nearly 250,000 horses and if you add in mules, it would have been 500,000” said Cross. “We had nearly 200 acres of oats threshed. We had more hogs (over 1 million) than cattle in the state. Corn and cotton were king with over 2 million acres each. We had over 2 million bushels of apples and 2 million pounds of grapes.”
In 1910, the average sized farm was 81.1 acres. Only 398 producers had 1,000 or more acres on their farms. Thirty percent of all farms were non-white.
Forty years later, in the 1950s, Arkansas had lost 32,000 farms. There were just over 95,000 fewer horses and 1 million fewer acres of corn.
“We’d gained another 420,000 acres of cotton to total 2.57 million acres of cotton. Hay acreage had nearly doubled to almost 1 million acres. Hog inventory had decreased by about 400,000 head and the number of cattle had increased by 291,000 head.”
Arkansans grew less than 1 million bushels of apples while over 14 million pounds of grapes were produced. The average-size farm had increased by 21.9 acres to a total of 103 acres while 1,251 producers had 1,000 acres, or more. By then, only 22 percent of the farms were non-white.
The 2007 Census of Agriculture shows that since 1910, Arkansas has lost 77 percent of all farms counted at that time with 3.5 million fewer acres in farms.
“The number of horses has dropped to 32 percent of its former glory while cattle have increased by nearly 1 million head and hogs have decreased to a quarter of what they were in 1910. Oats planted for grains was at 6,431 acres; corn had dropped 74 percent; cotton had decreased to 1.15 million acres; apples and grapes were no longer measured in production — only 658 acres and 1,139 acres, respectively, remain.”
The average-size farm in 2007 had increased by 178 acres and 199 acres from 1950 and 1910, respectively. And the number of farm operations with 1,000 acres or more had increased almost eight times over. The percent of “non-white and more-than-one-race” operators had dipped to 5 percent.
Cross showed a chart based on the percent of farms and sales by class. The chart “tells us that 59 percent of all agricultural sales come from 4.6 percent of the farms that had $1 million worth of sales, or more. That actually totals 2,254 producers and ranchers.
“Remember that the definition of a farm is ‘a place where $1,000 or more of agriculture products were produced and sold — or normally would have been sold — during the census year. Now, in 2007, remember there was an April freeze that had a negative impact on some of our fruit and vegetable crops in the state.”
About 33.6 percent of all Arkansas farms made between $1,000 and $9,999 worth of sales in 2007. This showed that few farms had a majority of the sales in Arkansas — something that is also true for the nation.
Comparing the previous census in 2002 to the 2007 census “shows there are more small farms and more large farms (in 2007). That means we lost farms in the mid-range categories. … Basically, (the mid-range) farms either moved into the larger sales categories, moved into the lower sales categories or we lost them completely.”
Another chart showed “a new grouping of farms with similar characteristics established by our sister agency, the Economic Research Service. There are two major groupings: small family farms with sales of less than $250,000 and ‘other’ farms. Small family farms encompass all groups up here but large family farms, very large family farms and non-family farms.”
The second chart shows that 37 percent of all farms in Arkansas are “lifestyle residential” farms. That means they have less than $250,000 in sales — “most with quite a bit less than that” — and their main occupation isn’t farming.
“Another 20 percent of our farms are considered ‘retirement’ farms and 15 percent are ‘limited resource’ farms. A ‘limited resource’ farm has sales of less than $100,000 with a household income of less than $20,000.”
Less than 4 percent of Arkansas farms are “large” and about 8 percent are “very large.” The “large” farms have sales from $250,000 to $500,000 while “very large” farms have $500,000 worth of sales, or more.
Nationwide, Cross said the 2007 census found the largest increase in numbers of farms is in the Mountain West — “from Montana all the way down to Texas — and here and there in the South.”
The census Web site can be accessed at www.agcensus.usda.gov.
The Arkansas NASS Web site can be accessed at Arkansas.