Home / Economy / Articles / Who is the American farmer?

Farmers by age group

Embed on your website

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than two million farms dot the nation, covering 897.4 million acres. That's more than twice the size of Alaska.

The latest USDA agricultural census counts 3.4 million "producers" or the farmersand workers involved in making decisions on these farms, from planting to harvesting to marketing. This category could refer to the farm's owner, a member of the owner's family, a manager, a tenant, a renter, or a sharecropper. The USDA also makes a distinction between producers and employees known as farmworkers.

The demographics of farmers

The number of farmers counted in the 2017 agricultural census increased 7% from the 3.2 million counted in 2012.

About 64% of farmers in 2017 were male. They also tended to be older: 62% of agricultural workers were over 55, an increase from 57% in 2012. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, workers 55 and older made up 23% of total employment, regardless of industry. In addition to being older and more male than the general population, farmers are more likely to be veterans. While 7% of the adult population are veterans, 11% of farmers have served at some point.

Learn more about agriculture in the US.

Farmers are, by a large majority, white (including Hispanic), with 95.4% of all farmers falling in that category. Hispanic or Latino farmers, regardless of race, make up 3.3% of all producers. Even fewer agriculture producers are American Indian or Alaskan Native or Black: 1.7% and 1.3%, respectively.

Where are the farmers working and living?

Seventy-four percent of agriculture producers live on farm-operated property.

Texas leads all states with the number of farmers: 412,575. That's 3% of the state's labor force.

The Midwest rounds out the top five states with the most farmers:

  • Missouri (162,345, or 5% of the labor force)
  • Iowa (145,432 or 9% of the labor force)
  • Ohio (130,439 or 2% of the labor force)
  • Oklahoma (130,434 or 7% of the labor force)

The largest state has the fewest farms: Alaska's 663,300 square miles only had 990 farmers in 2017.

Farmers/Agricultural producers as a share of the labor force

Embed on your website

Though they’re not in the top 20 states with the most farms, the Dakotas have the highest proportion of farm producers in the labor force: 10.9% of South Dakotans and 10.4% of North Dakotans.

How big are farms and what do they grow?

The average size of the 2.04 million American farms is 441 acres. However, 57.7% of the farmland in belongs to the 85,127 farms that exceed 2,000 acres in size.

Embed on your website

Family-held farms, by definition owned by a single person or members of the same family, account for 85.7% of all farms and 60.1% of all farmland.

Forty-seven percent are classified as primarily growing crops rather than raising animals. Sixteen percent of farms are predominantly classified as growing oilseed or grains like corn, wheat, and soybeans, while 31.4% of farms focus mainly on beef cattle ranching.

Primary classification of farms

Embed on your website

On average, a farm earned $32,217 in 2017. That year, 881,472 farms reported profits, while 1.16 million reported losses. Overall, farmers earned $65.8 billion in profits in 2017.

Farmers play a significant role in the economy. Even though farms account for less than a percent of the value added to the national GDP, farm products contribute heavily to other parts of the economy, including manufacturing, restaurants, retail, according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Understanding who they are and what they grow can help understand this integral part of the economy.

Learn more about agriculture and farms in the US and get the data directly in your inbox by signing up for our newsletter.

Census of Agriculture
Labor Force Characteristics
Gross Domestic Product
USDA definition of producer

From the General Explanation and Census of Agriculture Report Form

The term producer designates a person who is involved in making decisions for the farm operation. Decisions may include decisions about such things as planting, harvesting, livestock management, and marketing. The producer may be the owner, a member of the owner’s household, a hired manager, a tenant, a renter, or a sharecropper. If a person rents land to others or has land worked on shares by others, he/she is considered the producer only of the land which is retained for his/her own operation. The census collected information on the total number of male producers, the total number of female producers, and demographic information for up to four producers per farm.