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Census of Agriculture Yields 20th Century Answers

posted on February 13, 2009

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. President Obama pitched his economic recovery plan this week at a manufacturing plant that is reeling from the announcement of 22,000 layoffs.

Speaking at the Caterpillar plant in East Peoria, Illinois, the president said the revised $790 billion stimulus package would "save or create more than 3.5 million jobs over the next two years and get the economy back on track."

Obama said Caterpillar would rehire some of the workers when the economic bill becomes law and predicted similar scenarios at other companies.

But Caterpillar officials say the company probably will have to lay off more employees before it starts thinking about rehiring.

Meanwhile, the Commerce Department announced this week that retail sales rose 1 percent in January, reversing a six-month trend and defying economists' expectations by posting the largest increase in 14 months.

But the silver lining was not without a cloud. Much of the increase was attributed to higher gasoline prices.

And the Commerce Department announced the U.S. trade deficit fell to its lowest level in nearly six years as the recession depressed demand for imports.

Government bean counters were busy with other matters of importance to rural America this month, including a tally of social and economic trends in agriculture.

Census of Agriculture Yields 20th Century Answers

The Census of Agriculture, taken every five years, is a complete count of U.S. farms and ranches as well as the people who operate them. Administered by USDA, the latest tally reveals some new developments in agriculture and the continuation of long-term trends.

The number of farms nationwide has been declining since World War II but the latest figures show an uptick. More than 2.2 million farms now populate the U.S. – a 4 percent increase from five years earlier. But the Census confirmed the long-term trend of growing consolidation in agricultural operations.

Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "About 5 percent of farmers in this country produce about 75 percent of the crops and commodities we grow. Far too few Americans understand the challenges, the hard work, and the financial risk involved in production agriculture."

According to USDA, the average farm is 418 acres and is run by an operator averaging 57 years of age. But the largest increase in new farms comes from smaller operations run by, either new farmers who have another primary occupation, or so-called retirement farms. Only 45 percent of all farms are the primary occupation of their owner-operators.

Farm demographics saw modest changes from the last Census. According to USDA, 1.8 million of the total 2.2 million farms are operated by white males. The number of Hispanic farmers grew by 10 percent from over the past five years, but the largest demographic increase is in female farm operators – that figure has jumped by 30 percent. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack says diversity in agriculture is part of his vision at the Agriculture Department.

Sec. Tom Vilsack, USDA: "People of all colors, of all cultures, of all persuasions, from all geographic regions of this country ought to be participating and ought to be able to join this rural opportunity."

USDA also examined rural internet access and discovered that 57 percent of all farmers have an internet connection. Of that number, more than half report using a high-speed broadband provider. Those figures could jump in the coming years since President Obama's massive stimulus bill includes billions for rural broadband initiatives.


Tags: agriculture corn crops markets news Tom Vilsack USDA