Market News & Headlines >> Inside the Ag Census: Iowa's Changes in Farm Structure

We thought it would be interesting to drill down in the agricultural census and examine some of the shifts taking place in specific states. We’re starting with Iowa, one of America’s most agriculturally productive states. Not surprisingly, it has seen some important changes in farm structure between the 2007 census and the recently released 2012 census.  As the top U.S. producer of corn, soybeans and hogs, trends in Iowa could portend changes across the country.

At first glance, the acreage numbers make it appear that more of Iowa’s farmland is being operated renters because an additional 480,811 acres of land is being rented.  However, the total amount of owned land also increased, by 869,895 acres.  Hence, instead of looking at the number acres, it is more revealing to look at the proportion of Iowa’s farmed land that is rented versus owned. In 2007, just over 64% of total farm land was rented. This fell to 62.4% in 2012 – roughly the same rate or slightly less. 

There does, however, appear to be a slow attrition in the total number of operators.  Iowa farms had 4,552 fewer operators in 2012 than in 2007, a 3.4% decline. The number of farms fell 4.6%, from 92,856 in 2007 to 88,637 in 2012. While total farms decreased, farms with 500 or more acres increased by 546.  The average farm size in the state has grown only modestly, however: from an average of 331 acres in 2007 to 345 acres in 2012. One implication: a trend toward larger farms requiring fewer people to operate. No real surprise there, given today’s technology.

The aging of farm operators is a national trend and Iowa is a participant, with an increase from 54.5 years old to 55.6 years old. Operators are able to farm longer with today’s equipment and the big capital costs make it difficult for younger people to gain entry.  If that trend continues, we would expect to see average operator age increase even further in the next census.