MINNEAPOLIS — The number of farms in Minnesota fell 8 percent from 2007 to 2012 and the biggest farms in the state got bigger, according to new federal data released Friday.
The final results from the 2012 Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years, contains a wealth of data on Minnesota agriculture and how it stacks up against the national trends, as well as fun factoids that bolster the bragging rights of the state's most agricultural areas. For example, Stearns County in central Minnesota had the most farms in the state, but Polk County in the northwest has the most farm acres.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture data put the number of farms in Minnesota at 74,542 in 2012, reversing a short-term trend of slight increases since the 1997 census. While the number of farms that harvested crops held relatively steady, lower counts for livestock operations contributed to the overall decline.
"One of the most significant things is that the only size of farm that increases in numbers was the largest farms — farmers over 2,000 acres were up almost 14 percent" said Dale Nordquist, extension economist and associate director of the Center for Farm Financial Management at the University of Minnesota. "Every other farm size was down."
Nordquist said it's "a pretty good guess" that as larger farms grew during that period, they acquired acres from small-and medium-sized farms.
Minnesota had 36 million acres of land in its farms, down 3 percent or about 900,000 acres from the previous census. The number of acres harvested for crops increased by 3 percent, but that was offset by declines acres devoted to pastures, woodlands and land used for farmsteads and other buildings or facilities.
A close look at the ownership data shows that the family farm is still strong in Minnesota, even if some of the business structures are different from 20 or 30 years ago, said Kent Thiese, a vice president and farm management analyst at MinnStar Bank in Lake Crystal. Family or individually owned operations made up 88 percent of Minnesota's total farms and 75 percent of its farm acreage as of 2012. But many of the farms listed as partnerships or family-held corporations are also family based, he said.
"Corporate agriculture has not taken over Minnesota," Nordquist agreed. "The vast majority of the farmers are owned and operated by family operators."
The market value of agricultural products sold by Minnesota's farmers increased by 61 percent over the five-year period, while production expenses increased 50 percent, resulting in an average net cash farm income of $94,345 per farm.
"The agriculture industry continues to be very strong and it continues to have a really important function in the economy of Minnesota and across the U.S.," said Dan Lofthus, the USDA's state statistician for Minnesota.
It's important to note that the census provides a snapshot in time, Lofthus said, and the changes don't necessarily represent trends that will continue into the future.
For example, while 2012 was boom year for crop farmers, grain prices have come down since then but livestock prices have risen.