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Ag Census: A Review of Insights and Gaps

Market research is surveys or other methods of research conducted with a sample of a population to get information, whether that be for new product development, message testing, or something else. A census is a survey of the entire population. The US does one every 10 years to monitor the growth and changes in the population which is then used to distribute congressional representatives, but also to distribute funds and assistance. Market researchers often balance their research to the census so that it truly matches the population as a whole. 

Similarly, the USDA conducts the Census of Agriculture every 5 years during years ending in 2 and 7. The 2022 Ag Census data was released on February 13, 2024, and was full of fantastic information. While it can seem overwhelming and difficult to digest, there are so many things to be learned. Here at Ag Access, we wanted to take you through some of the insights that we found as well as the questions they provoked. 

Insight #1: Sugarcane was the only crop to increase in number of farms

Overall number and acreage of farms decreased once again this census, making the 2022 numbers the lowest we see on the comparison table back through 1992. This is fairly consistent throughout crops and livestock producers, with every single thing decreasing between 2017 and 2022. Except for sugarcane. And while sugarbeets decreased in number of farms slightly, they did increase acreage by about 7,000. 

The Gap: Why is this crop the one to increase where nothing else did?

In the US, most sugar comes from sugarbeets. And while that did increase by 7,000 acres, sugarcane increased ten times that with an increase of 70,000 acres. So why, amongst all of this shrinkage of farms and crops, is sugarcane the crop to increase so dramatically? Is it about money, is it a rotational crop, is it easier to grow? 

Where We Come In

Target Audience: New sugarcane growers and growers that recently expanded their sugarcane acreage

Questions we could help answer:

  1. What proportion of a producer’s farm is sugarcane?
  2. Why did they choose sugarcane over sugarbeets or an entirely different crop?
  3. Did producers add sugarcane to their farms as a new crop or expand their existing acreage? 
  4. Are there any farmers who entered the industry with sugarcane?

Insight #2: The number of young producers is increasing along with the number of beginning producers (less than 10 years on the farm)

Young producers, aged 34 or younger, increased by about 11,000 people or 3.9%. While the population as a whole is aging with those aged 35-64 shrinking and those 65+ increasing at 12%, seeing an increase in young producers is still promising for the agricultural industry. 

Beginning producers are producers who are in their first 10 years of work on a farm, regardless of their age. These producers make up about 30% of the industry, and the number of them increased by over 100,000 workers from 2017 to 2022. 

The Gap: What is bringing in young and new producers and how do we encourage more of it?

With an aging population of farmers, succession planning is becoming a hot button issue and without new and young faces in the industry, many more farms will be lost. Because of this, it’s critical that we encourage new producers to enter the industry, especially younger producers that could stick around for a long time. But what draws them in? And how do we keep them?

Where We Come In:

Target Audience: Farmers aged 18-34, Producers within their first 10 years in the industry

Questions we could help answer:

  1. Are they working on a large operation, a small hobby, or something in between?
  2. What drew them to the industry?
  3. Are they interested in expanding their production and how so? Through additional acreage or additional crops/livestock?

Insight #3: Renewable energy sources, especially solar panels, are much higher in 2022 than they were in 2017

Renewable energy is a multi-select question, meaning that one farmer can select multiple different types of renewable energy that they are using. The total number of farmers using renewable energy increased from 133,176 to 153,101, an increase of almost 20,000 farmers! Even larger is the increase of farmers using solar panels at over 26,000 more. This means that farmers that were using other sources of renewable energy in 2017 expanded into solar panels, while some likely entered into the technology with solar panels. 

Another increase was in small hydro systems, with an increase of 50% from 1,710 to 2,559. Small hydro systems utilize moving water on the property to generate electricity, typically 2 megawatts or less. These systems can be mechanical or electrical and often utilize water or pressure from irrigation systems, making them a natural fit for farming. 

The Gap: Why is adoption increasing and why these specific sources?

Water wheels have been used for millennia to power machines, even before electricity was around. While things look a lot different now, and modern energy systems are much different, this is not a new idea. So why now are we seeing the upturns in utilization? And are there ways to increase usage even further to get a majority of farmers powering their operations with at least a percentage of power from renewable sources?

Where We Come In:

Target Audience: Farmers using renewable energy AND farmers that are not

Questions we could help answer:

  1. What percentage of farmers’ energy is coming from renewable sources?
  2. What draws farmers to using renewable energy and why did they make the switch?
  3. What are the barriers to entry for various sources of renewable energy?
  4. What are the friction points during implementation of renewable energy?
  5. How open are farmers to new technologies and new types of renewable energy?
  6. What price are farmers willing to pay for these energy sources?

So what now?

All of these insights were brought to you using only a select few of the 77 tables available at this time. These are just a very few of the insights and gaps that we found in the research. We know that if you dig deeper into the data, you will find many more as well. The Ag Census data is bountiful and can be looked at not just in total, but between different age, race, or gender producers, producers of different crops and livestock, by size of farm, and in even more ways. All of these cuts can provide great information and spur even greater questions. We encourage you to take a look and follow up with research of your own. Keep an eye out for further USDA publications as well such as the 2023 Irrigation and Water Management Survey to be released on November 14, 2024, and the 2023 Census of Aquaculture or the 2024 Census of Horticultural Specialties both to be released on December 16, 2024. We’d love to help you fill the gaps from those as well! 

Are you curious about any of these insights? Do you want to hear more about what we see? Have you taken a look through the census data and come up with questions of your own? We’d love to help you find that perfect audience and get the answers you need to fill the gaps of your knowledge and make better business decisions.

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