The latest numbers are in, giving a snapshot of American agriculture and how it’s evolved over the last five years.
After showing a rare uptick in the number of farms in the last census, the number of farms in South Dakota declined by 2,021 between 2012 and 2017.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture released the 2017 Ag Census Thursday, April 11. The information was gathered in 2017, and it typically takes a year to prepare results. The final numbers were delayed for an expected release in February this year due to the government shutdown.
South Dakota had 29,968 farms, according to the 2017 census, down 6 percent from 31,989 in 2012. The number of farms in South Dakota grew by 820 between 2007 and 2012, bucking the national trend. At the time, South Dakota saw more hobby farms and an increase in the number of large farms. Now the number of small farms is also decreasing. The only category with an uptick was in farms with 2,000 acres or more.
“That’s not going to be a surprise as some of our smaller operations go out of business,” said Erik Gerlach, South Dakota state statistician with the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The census counts even the smallest hobby farm, as long as it produced $1,000 or more worth of products. Gerlach said a change in the number of those farms can impact the numbers.
The average South Dakota farm size increased slightly in the latest census, from 1,352 acres in 2012 to 1,443 acres in 2017 - an increase of 7 percent. That includes land owned and rented.
The total amount of land in farms across the state, at 43.2 million acres was down less than 1 percent from the last report. About 89.1 percent of South Dakota is farm land, compared to 39.8 percent for the U.S.
South Dakota farmers sold $9.7 billion worth of ag products in 2017, down 4 percent from 2012. Slightly more of the revenue – 53 percent – came from crops as compared to 47 percent from livestock. The average farm made $81,763, down 20 percent from 2012.
The loss of farms and the declining revenues concern South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Kim Vanneman. As farmers work through difficult economic times, she said her eyes are on the future.
“One of my focuses as the South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture is to encourage and support the next generations of agriculture,” she said via email.
The age of producers continues to creep higher. In 2017, the average South Dakota producer was 56.2 years old, compared to 54.3 years in 2012. The number of young producers, defined as 35 or less made up 12 percent of all producers.
The number of female producers was 14,862, or 30 percent of all producers.
South Dakota farmers have better access to the internet than farmers nationwide, according to the census. A total 81 percent of South Dakota farms reported having internet access compared to 75 percent for all U.S. farms.
Vanneman thinks the state can do better, however. One in five producers don’t have ready access to the internet – not even dial-up access, she pointed out.
“We talk a lot about all of the tools available to producers, from precision ag to marketing, but many of those are only useful if you have high quality internet access,” she said, applauding the governor’s efforts to close the gap in broadband access.
South Dakota farmers responded to the census questionnaire at a lower rate than the national average. The national response rate was 71.8 percent, and South Dakota's was 63.4 percent.
“That’s a big problem in this state,” Gerlach said.
South Dakota often has one of the worst response rates in the nation. This year it had the third lowest rate. Statisticians like Gerlach try to make up for the lack of response with accepted mathematical procedures. He said it’s important to have data on the state’s biggest industry.
“If we want to talk about South Dakota agriculture, we can’t talk about it without the information from our South Dakota farmers and ranchers,” he said.
Gerlach thanked producers who took the time to respond. The ag census is the only source of uniform, comprehensive and impartial agriculture data for every county in the nation, he said. Collecting data consistently allows people to see past trends and plan for the future.
“These census numbers mean a lot,” Gerlach said.
The state ag department uses the numbers to compare to other states and showcase the importance of agriculture in South Dakota, Vanneman said. They play a role in forming policies and programs that impact producers in the state.
“This data helps us communicate our story to consumers, legislators, and community leaders across our great state,” she said.
“Agriculture has always been a cornerstone of our state. The Census of Agriculture provides us a way to track the changes that have occurred over the years,” Vanneman added.
Download a full copy of the Ag Census here: https://www.nass.usda.gov/Publications/AgCensus/2017/Full_Report/Volume_1,_Chapter_1_US/usv1.pdf