Census of agriculture gives voice to farmers
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Census of agriculture gives voice to farmers

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This spring marked the release of the 2017 Census of Agriculture — a culmination of work and persistence on behalf of United States Department of Agriculture staff and the 71.8% of American farmers who responded.

Now that the census is out, the analysis has begun. Legislators, farm organizations and companies serving the agriculture industry will use the data and trends to better align programs and services to the needs of their constituents and clients on the ground. Most farmers don’t like to talk too much about themselves — the census helps to ensure their voice is heard by people who make decisions that impact American agriculture.

I use the census in my own work to help paint a picture of what agriculture looks like on a state level and locally. There’s a ton of information to glean, but after a quick overview of the data, I pulled out some Wisconsin and Racine County-specific figures that caught my eye:

State statistics

  • Wisconsin ranks 9th in the U.S. in terms of total value of agricultural production — impressive for a state with a relatively short growing season and a testament to our hardworking farmers
  • Wisconsin has 2,935 farms with renewable energy-producing systems on site, an 84% increase over 2012 numbers

Racine County farmer demographics

  • The average age of a farmer in Racine County is 58.2, a bit higher than the state average of 56
  • 27% of Racine County’s 611 farms involve a new and beginning producer in day to day operations
  • 234 female principal operators (i.e., the primary farm decision-maker and operator) manage 33,304 acres of Racine County farmland
  • Farming is the primary occupation for 46% of Racine County principal operators, which illustrates the fact that many of our farms are run by individuals who have off-farm jobs or are perhaps getting started in farming while still working elsewhere

Racine County land and animals

  • Approximately 60% of Racine County’s total land area is in farms, which is higher than the state average of 41% and comparable to counties that might be considered more “rural” like Richland and Sheboygan
  • 429 acres of farmland are under a conservation easement, protecting them from future development
  • Conservation practice adoption is increasing on farmland: the 2107 Census found no-till has been implemented on 32,828 acres — a 27% increase over 2012. Acres planted to cover crops increased by 33% since 2012.
  • We have a variety of animals both big and small: 865 horses and ponies, 3,209 dairy cows, 603 goats, and 140 colonies of honey bees

The Census of Agriculture can be found at agcensus.usda.gov. For those who don’t want to go deep into the state and county-level data, there are highlight videos available explaining key nationwide trends in agriculture.

During this harvest season, keep all Racine County farmers in your thoughts. It’s been a challenging growing season, and wet weather this fall is making harvest difficult. Be patient as you encounter farm vehicles on public roadways — give them space and a friendly wave. If you are trying to pass a slow-moving farm vehicle, check for oncoming traffic, ensure you’re in a passing zone and make sure the vehicle isn’t about to make a left-hand turn.

Leigh Presley is an agriculture educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Division of Extension Kenosha & Racine Counties.

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