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Minnesota farms are fewer, larger; farmers are older

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture provided a look at the nation's farms with its preliminary 2012 Census of Agriculture, a review that it produces twice every decade.

The Associated Press reports the snapshot, released Thursday, shows that the financial picture for those who make their living from agriculture has improved, with market values for crops, livestock and products reaching record highs. The 10 states with the most farms are Texas, Missouri, Iowa, Oklahoma, California, Kentucky, Ohio, Illinois, Minnesota and Wisconsin.

The survey found that long-term trends include fewer but bigger farms and an aging population of farmers. The Pioneer Press reports that much of the data pertaining to Minnesota farms is consistent with national findings. The story noted that there were 8 percent fewer farms in Minnesota in 2012 than there were five years earlier. Nationwide, there was a 4 percent drop in farm numbers in that same time period. There was a steeper decrease in the number of smaller "hobby" farms in Minnesota, with the 20 percent drop believed to be a casualty of the recession.

In the national survey, the average farmer's age is 58.3 years old. Minnesota farmers are slightly younger, averaging 56.6 years of age. But in the last study, the average age of Minnesota farmers was 55.3 years.

The number of Minnesota farms with $1 million in sales nearly doubled in the past five years, reflecting both larger operations and higher crop prices.

The survey showed growth in nontraditional elements of agriculture. While the industry is still overwhelmingly white, there's been a rise in the number of minority-operated farms. But only 14 percent of farms are operated by women.

U.S. farms sold nearly $395 billion in products in 2012, a third more than five years earlier. That averaged to about $187,000 per farm — or an increase of $52,000 over 2007 totals.

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