The USDA’s Economic Research Service released the latest series of state fact sheets today, based on the 2007 Census of Agriculture. As the son and grandson of farmers, I’m always curious about the state of ag in our state, particularly for small farms. A few items caught my attention as I browsed Washington State’s stats.
The first surprise was the shrinking size of farms. Conventional wisdom tells me that farms are consolidating and growing larger, but the average farm size went from 426 acres in 2002 to 381 acres in 2007. The percent of very small farms (1-99 acres) grew, while the percentage of farms with 500 or more acres decreased.
The average age of farmers continues to climb. In 2007, farmers averaged 57 years old, up from 55 in 2002 and 53 in 1997.
Another fact jumped out: only 45.9 percent list farming as their primary occupation, down from 58.5 percent in 2002.
A significant change was the number of women listed as principal farm operators. That number jumped from 5,632 in 2002 to 8,090 in 2007.
There are a lot of other stats to look at on the fact sheet. What do the numbers mean? Do they accurately reflect the state of agriculture in Washington? Are there longer term trends that are shifting, from farm size to ownership to gender to ongoing rural poverty?
Washington State Fact Sheet (USDA/Economic Research Service)