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Less than 50% of U.S. farms were profitable in 2017, new census shows

Soybean harvest on October 2, 2013 near Worthington, Minnesota.
Soybeans harvested near Worthington, Minnesota. (Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images)

The gap between how many U.S. farms were profitable and those that weren't widened in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's first census since 2012, released Thursday.

Why it matters: The most in-depth government survey of the agricultural economy shows a downturn in conditions for farmers even before the start of President Trump's tit-for-tat trade war began, which has resulted in lower Chinese demand for U.S. commodities.

Details:

  • Just over 891,000 farms ended 2017 with positive net cash farm income — a measure of profitability — down from 972,445 in 2012. Meanwhile, the number of unprofitable farms jumped to 1.15 million, after falling between 2007 and 2012.
  • There are 2.04 million farms and ranches in the U.S., a decline of of 3.2% from 2012.
  • There are more small and large farms, while the number of mid-sized farms are getting squeezed. That reflects farms scaling up or scaling down to survive. "Farmers have sought to increase scale to better spread their fixed costs and increase their purchasing power with seed and fertilizer companies," Bloomberg notes.
  • Farmers are continuing to get older. The average age of all producers is 57.5, an increase of 1.2 years from 2012.

Go deeper: America's farmers are falling on tough times