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Preliminary census doesn’t tell the full story

By Kathleen M. Dutro, Public Relations Team

When the U.S. Department of Agriculture released the preliminary results of the 2012 Census of Agriculture last month, many people, including media, focused on the continued decline in the number of principal operators (previous census 2007).

But that may not be the real story, according to Bob Young, chief economist at the American Farm Bureau Federation. The real story won’t become clear until the full census is released in May.

Young said he’s particularly interested in the figures for those who aren’t counted as “principal operators.” The oldest generation in many cases still qualifies as the principal operator, but on many farms, there’s now a son and a grandson or daughter who are also considered second or third operators, he said. The demographics for those second and third operators are not included in the preliminary data.

“I just really feel, as I go to these (Farm Bureau) meetings, that the age demographic of those meetings is down,” Young explained. “It’s not that Dad or Granddad’s not still in the room, but you’ve also got these younger folk in the room as well. And that’s why I’m going to be very interested in looking at that second and third principal operator.”

An indication of this possible shift might be visible in the preliminary data, Young said, specifically in the increase both nationwide and in Indiana in the number of principal operators age 25-34. (See pie charts)

In the USDA’s view, among the most significant findings is the increase in the value of agricultural products sold in the U.S. – up more than 33 percent nationally to $394.6 billion and up nearly 36 percent in Indiana to $11.2 billion.

Young added that ordinarily, the full survey results would have been released by now, but the budget sequester and mandatory furloughs for federal employees prevented the USDA from getting the full analysis put together in the usual time.

USDA “did what they could do, but there’s still an awful lot more that needs to be done in terms of being able to look at the census,” he added.

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