“My question is not just who is going to farm, but who is going to defend them?” Vilsack said.
The amount of farmland in the United States also shrunk over the time period, from 922 million to 915 million acres. At the same time, farms grew larger — the average farm grew from 418 to 434 acres.
Vilsack said he is most concerned about the survival of middle-sized farms, which declined in the last five years. The number of larger and smaller farms held mostly steady.
He said he believes that decline partly came from a lapse in disaster assistance while Congress haggled over the farm bill, drought in many states and rising feed costs.
Ideally, he said, many of the younger farmers who are working on smaller farms will eventually grow their operations.
One area of growth for agriculture is farms that are minority-operated. The number of farms operated by Hispanics, African Americans, American Indians and Asians all grew between 2007 and 2012, and the number of Hispanics who were principal operators of farms grew by 21 percent. Still, farm country remains overwhelmingly white — 92 percent of farms are operated by whites, while less than 64 percent of the general population is white and the minority population is growing.
Similarly, only 14 percent of farms are operated by women, and more than 90 percent of those were smaller farms.
The survey also found:
— Most U.S. farms are small: 75 percent had sales of less than $50,000 in 2012.
— Agricultural sales per farm averaged $187,000 in 2012, an increase of $52,000 — or 39 percent — over 2007.
— New England, Texas, Florida and many states in the Mountain West saw increases in the number of farms and some saw an increase in farmland. Many Midwestern, Southern and Mid-Atlantic states saw decreases. Vilsack said much of the growth in those states comes from an increase in specialty crops, mostly fruits and vegetables, that are increasingly popular with consumers.
— The 10 states with the most farms are Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, California, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin. Only Ohio is new to the list since 2007.
— Daily News