What is the Census of Agriculture?
The Census of Agriculture is a voluntary mail survey that counts the number of U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. Even small plots of land – whether rural or urban – count if $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year.
The Census of Agriculture, conducted once every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income, and expenditures.
Why is the Census of Agriculture important for King County?
The Census of Agriculture provides comprehensive agriculture data for every county in the nation. There are limitations to the Census due to the voluntary nature of the Census survey. Census surveys do not capture every farmer in the U.S., and the survey questions present categories that may not be relevant or applicable to every farmer.
However, the Census is currently the one of the best ways to glean countywide data about producers and the economic role of agriculture, which can influence decisions that will shape the future of agriculture in King County.
Changes between 2012 and 2017 Census of Agriculture data for King County:
- Total agricultural market value has increased. In 2017, total farm sales were $135.4 million, up from $120.7 million in 2012.
- Crops make up more of the market than livestock. In 2017, crop sales, including nursery and greenhouse crops, were $90.6 million while livestock sales, including poultry and their products, were $44.8 million.
- Fewer farms in production. In 2017, 1,796 farms were in production, down from 1,837 in 2012. In spite of the apparent decline, King County has more farms than all but three counties in Washington.
- Changes in farmland. According to the 2017 Census, the number of acres of land used for farming decreased from 46,717 in 2012 to 41,975 in 2017. It is worth noting that King County conducted a detailed land cover survey in 2017 and found that acres in production actually increased from 36,801 acres in 2013 to 39,189 acres in 2017. Similarly, total farmland, which includes land in production as well as land that could be returned to active production, increased between 2013 and 2017, from 46,939 acres to 48,204 acres. This discrepancy between the Census data and the County’s land use survey data are due to differences in definitions and data collection methodologies.
- Median farm size increased since 2012. The median farm size increased to 9 acres in 2017, up slightly from 8 in 2012.
- Increase in number of producers. The number of King County producers increased from 3,152 producers in 2012 to 3,246 producers in 2017.
- Conservation stewardship practices have shifted over time. The number of farms using no-till practices has decreased; however, the number of acres using no-till has increased from 260 acres in 2012 to 409 acres in 2017. More farms are using cover crops (112 in 2017 vs. 87 in 2012); however, cover crop acreage slightly decreased from 680 acres in 2012 to 671 in 2017.
- Female producers have more than doubled. Principal female operators, where principal operator is defined as the sole farm operator, have significantly increased from 609 operators in 2012 to 1,225 operators in 2017.
- New and beginning producers. New principal farmers (i.e. sole producers operating on any operation for 10 years or less) accounted for 21.3 percent of King County producers in 2017. This percentage increases to 28.7 percent when new farmers who are not principal farmers (i.e. any producer involved on a farm) are included. This is the first year the Ag Census has collected data on new producers.
- Increase in organic farms and sales. In 2017, there were 37 organic farms, up from 27 in 2012. Organic sales significantly increased from $11.8 million in 2012 to $60.7 million in 2017.
In the United States, local food sales have increased by nearly $1.5 billion since 2012. This demonstrates that the demand for local food continues to grow not just in our region, but also across the entire country. In addition, data from the Census of Agriculture allows King County to continue to measure the health and viability of our food system. Census data is useful for the Local Food Initiative as we track progress toward our goals. In particular, we are planning to measure environmental stewardship, markets, and farm and farmer demographics, and will continue to measure farmland, to assess and understand how to improve our efforts to grow the County’s local food system.
Where can I find Census of Agriculture data?
You can find Census of Agriculture data online at www.nass.usda.gov/AgCensus, where the information is available through their searchable online database Quick Stats, their Census Data Query Tool, downloadable PDF reports, maps, and a variety of topic-specific products. Reports can also be viewed at the local NASS field office in your area and at many depository libraries, universities, and other state government offices.