It is simply amazing what census results can tell us


Pettus Read

Pettus Read

Every five years the United States Department of Agriculture conducts its Census of  Agriculture. In 2007 the last census was taken and the results are now in with some very interesting  results.  

For the very first time since 1840 when the first ag census was taken in conjunction with the  nation’s population census, the 2007 figures provides information on the way farmers communicate and get information. The new Census found that across the nation 57 percent of all farmers have  Internet access, up from 50 percent in 2002. The census also looked at high-speed Internet access. 

Of those producers accessing the Internet, 58 percent reported having a high-speed connection.  However, figures for those who reside in Tennessee were not that high. Percentage figures for Tennessee’s farms fell below 50 percent and in some areas lower than 40 percent. The Census proved that there is still much room for improvement in our rural areas of the state for high speed Internet.

Other “firsts” in the 2007 Census include questions about on-farm energy generation, community-supported agriculture arrangements and historic barns. The report contained comprehensive measures of the number of women involved in farming in our state and nation for the second time since the 2002 report collected those figures for the first time. Women have been a major force in saving many of Tennessee’s Century Farms and their contribution to the overall 

successes of our nation’s agricultural system has been vital. Twelve percent, or 9,960, of the state’s 79,280 agricultural producers were women in 2007. 

The 2007 Census of Agriculture showed there were 79,280 farms operating in Tennessee during 2007. That amount is down 9 percent from the 87,595 farms in  2002.  This is not surprising knowing that this was the beginning of our drought and some smaller farms had a lack of pasture and water during that summer and fall. Rising costs also caused a decrease in the farm numbers and dairies have been going out of production at a rate of four a month in the state since the last Census. 

Land in farms, at 10,969,798 acres, was down from the 2002 number of 11,681,533, and the average farm size, at 138 acres, was up 5 acres. Farmers have to increase acreage size to make their farm working plans profitable. The average age of Tennessee agricultural producers in 2007 was 55.9-years-old, up from 54.8 in 1997. 

tfbfResults received from the Tennessee Agricultural Statistics Service, under the direction of State Statistician Debra Kenerson, revealed for Tennessee some very interesting news on Tennessee agriculture. “The Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years, is the nation’s largest and most comprehensive agricultural dataset, providing extensive coverage of U.S., state, and county agriculture,” said Kenerson.  “We routinely get requests for rare or specialty  commodities and the census is often the sole source of these data.” The Ag Statistics Service has been a very important source in our state for agricultural information. They keep us aware of trends and just where we are going. 

The national report also states that most farms in the United States are small, with 60 percent of all farms reporting less than $10,000 in sales of agricultural products. Of the 2.2 million farms nationwide, only 1 million show positive net cash income from the farm operation. The remaining 1.2 million farms depend on non-farm income to cover farm expenses. The census definition of a farm is any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year. 

They go on to report that of the 2.2 million principal farm operators in the nation, 1.2 million report something other than farming as their primary occupation. Almost 900,000 principal operators report working off the farm more than 200 days a year. The share of farmers working off-farm grew from 55 percent in 2002 to 65 percent in 2007.

Nationally it is shown in the Census that demographic characteristics of operators on larger farms, with sales over $250,000, differ from those of small farms. Operators of larger farms tend to be younger, are more likely to report farming as their primary occupation, and are less likely to work off the farm.  

Even with less number of farms in Tennessee being shown in the current Census report, agricultural production still generates more than $2.7 billion annually in farm cash receipts. Farming is a vital link to keeping our state’s economy strong. Our farmers are very important to keeping this link strong and it is up to all of us to support agriculture in our state. Who knows what the 2012 census will report, but with a healthy agricultural industry today, hopefully it will be one to be proud of.  

Census results are available online at or call (800) 727-9540.  

Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation.  He may be contacted by e-mail at [email protected]