The Data Says ... Results from the 2012 Census of Agriculture

Tanya Hall

Every five years, a fresh snapshot of our nation’s agricultural community is taken and analyzed via the Census of Agriculture. This survey provides a view into an industry responsible for providing the raw materials for our basic needs: food, clothing and shelter. In early May, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) released the first results from the 2012 Census of Agriculture.

Due to the voluminous amount of data with many interesting tidbits of information, InContext is publishing a series on the many dimensions of agriculture revealed by this census. This article provides highlights from the 2012 census, while upcoming articles will focus on farm financials and production.

Who Completes the Survey?

In December 2012, 3 million questionnaires were sent out to agricultural producers throughout the nation. Similar to the national population and housing census, multiple efforts were used to solicit responses such as mail, Internet, phone and in-person visits. The USDA defines a farm as any place that produced and sold, or normally would have sold, $1,000 or more of agricultural products during the census year. Thus, farming operations of all sizes and types were sought to participate.

Farm Size

In 2012, Indiana had approximately 58,700 farms spread out over 14,720,400 acres. This represents a decline of 12 percent in the number of farms and a 5.2 percent decline in the number of acres since 1997.

For every 10 acres in farmland, 8.5 acres were dedicated to crops, 0.7 acres to woodlands and the remainder was in other land uses. The average farm was 251 acres, a figure which has grown 7.7 percent since 1997.

As expected, the 2012 census reinforced the subtle trend of a growing dichotomy within the agriculture farming community. Nationally, there has been a steady growth of small farming operations (defined as less than 50 acres) as well as large operations (2,000 acres or more). Within Indiana, this trend was more lopsided. Since 1997, the state has had a 15.4 percent growth in small farms yet a 95.8 percent growth in large farms. Since 2007, the growth among small farming operations solely occurred in operations ranging from 10 to 49 acres (6.3 percent) while large operations grew 8.6 percent.

This evolving barbell effect means there are fewer medium-sized farms—particularly those who operate farms in the 50-to-999-acre range. While this trend began several decades ago, it has become more pronounced over time.

Similar to the nation, the vast majority of Indiana’s farms are still family farms (87 percent), which have seen negligible change over the past 15 years (see Figure 1). The state has seen a slight increase in farmland being legally transferred to land trusts, estates or institutions (5.9 percent), which is often fueled by the owner’s desire for the land to stay in its current state instead of becoming developed.

Figure 1: Indiana Farms by Legal Status, 2012

Figure 1

Source: IBRC, using USDA’s 2012 Census of Agriculture

Farm Operators

In 2012, Indiana had nearly 88,000 individuals involved in farming, comprising 2.8 percent of the nation’s farmers. In Indiana, the vast majority of these individuals are considered as the principal operator (66.7 percent), with 28.7 percent serving as the secondary operator and the remaining 4.6 percent viewed as the third operator.

It is common for farmers to have off-farm jobs due to the capital-intensive nature of farming. The USDA asks farmers if they have off-farm employment to gauge dependence on off-farm work. Of Indiana’s 58,695 principal operators, 43.7 percent reported farming as their principal occupation. Recognizing that the state has approximately 8,000 fewer operators than in 1997, it’s interesting that the share of farm vs. off-farm principal occupation has had very little change. However, since many farms are multi-generational, perhaps the lack of change is expected.

A slightly different question asked how many days off the farm the operators worked. Here the data were broken down by the three operator types. Across all three operators, approximately 35 percent did not work off the farm in 2012. Of those who did work off the farm, roughly 43 percent worked 200 plus days at another job.

It has been well-documented that our nation’s farmers are continuously growing older, raising concern that young farmers are not finding opportunities to farm. The average age of Indiana’s farmers is 54 years old, slightly younger than the national average of 56 years old. As anticipated, the principal operator is the eldest and each subsequent operator is slightly younger (55.8 years, 50.9 years and 43.8 years of age, respectively, at the national level). Approximately 11 percent of Indiana’s operators are under the age of 35; however, this figure likely overlooks young adults who work full-time on the farm in a hired-hand capacity.

Women comprised nearly 10 percent of the state’s principal farm operators (9.8 percent) in 2012, following a drop of 632 female operators. As a general rule, the female operators had smaller farming operations with 90 percent having fewer than 180 acres (compared to 75 percent of all principal operators). Agricultural production at these farms centered on other crop farming/hay; animal aquaculture and other animal production; oil and grain farming; and cattle production. While these four areas are the same as the remainder of farming operations, women had a greater emphasis on specialty crops and animal production.

Agricultural Production

Often many of the specialty or niche farming activities are lumped into an “other” category, thus providing very little insight. Census data, however, allow researchers to look closer at these farm production activities. Table 1 shows the number of farms engaged in each farming activity, as defined by the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) for both 2007 and 2012.

As expected, oilseed and grain farming was still king in Indiana with 24,000 farms devoted to the production of these row crops, accounting for nearly 41 percent of all farms (despite a 4.6 percent decline in farms). Within this category, corn production is still the most popular farming activity followed by soybean production, which has seen a 44.4 percent growth in farm numbers.

The next most prolific farming activity was other crop farming (19.8 percent), closely followed by cattle ranching and farming (17.3 percent) and animal aquaculture/other animal production (11.3 percent). In the other crop farming category, one can really see the sizeable number of farms that grow specialty crops such as maple syrup, hay and grass seeds and spices.

The data also show that one in seven farms raise beef cattle. Our dairy production is concentrated to a mere 2.5 percent of farms. Nearly 10 percent of all farms raise horses, heavily dominating the specialty animal production category.

Table 1: Indiana Farms by Production Activity, 2007 and 2012

NAICS Agriculture
Production Activity
2007 2012 Percent Change
Farms Share of Total Farms Share of Total
1111 Oilseed and Grain Farming 25,150 41.3% 24,002 40.9%-4.6%
11115 Corn Farming 15,692 62.4% 11,692 48.7%-25.5%
11111 Soybean Farming 6,471 25.7% 9,342 38.9%44.4%
11119 All Other Grain Farming 2,812 11.2% 2,750 11.5%-2.2%
11114 Wheat Farming 175 0.7% 214 0.9%22.3%
11112 Oilseed (except Soybean) Farming 4 0.0% n/a
1119 Other Crop Farming 11,889 19.5% 11,636 19.8%-2.1%
11199 All Other Crop Farming 7,332 61.7% 6,767 58.2%-7.7%
11194 Hay Farming 4,404 37.0% 4,783 41.1%8.6%
11191 Tobacco Farming 153 1.3% 86 0.7%-43.8%
1121 Cattle Ranching and Farming 11,252 18.5% 10,172 17.3%-9.6%
112111 Beef Cattle Ranching and Farming 8,676 77.1% 8,394 82.5%-3.3%
11212 Dairy Cattle and Milk Production 1,462 13.0% 1,459 14.3%-0.2%
112112 Cattle Feedlots 1,114 9.9% 319 3.1%-71.4%
1125 & 1129 Animal Aquaculture and Other Animal Production 5,616 9.2% 6,645 11.3%18.3%
11292 Horses and Other Equine Production 4,342 77.3% 5,747 86.5%32.4%
11299 All Other Animal Production 1,019 18.1% 653 9.8%-35.9%
11291 Apiculture 114 2.0% 181 2.7%58.8%
11293 Fur-Bearing Animal and Rabbit Production 120 2.1% 43 0.6%-64.2%
1125 Aquaculture210.4% 21 0.3%0.0%
1124 Sheep and Goat Farming 1,547 2.5% 1,719 2.9%11.1%
1123 Poultry and Egg Production 1,442 2.4% 1,336 2.3%-7.4%
1122 Hog and Pig Farming 1,959 3.2% 1,301 2.2%-33.6%
1114 Greenhouse, Nursery and Floriculture Production 877 1.4% 794 1.4%-9.5%
1112 Vegetable and Melon Farming 665 1.1% 688 1.2%3.5%
1113 Fruit and Tree Nut Farming 541 0.9% 402 0.7%-25.7%

Note: NAICS 11199 includes sugar beet, peanut, agave, hay and grass seeds, hops, maple sap/syrup, mint, spice and tea farming. NAICS 11299 includes alpacas, aviaries, bison, breeding for pets, deer, llamas, dog and cats, companion animals, buffalo, kennels, breeding and raising stock for show and even worm/rattlesnake/earthworm production. For a complete list of included items in these categories, visit
Source: IBRC, using USDA’s 2007 and 2012 Census of Agriculture

Since 2007, several farm categories have seen double-digit changes. Indiana has had large increases in farms devoted to

  • Soybeans
  • Wheat
  • Horses
  • Apiculture
  • Sheep/goats

Meanwhile, Indiana has lost farms in the production of

  • Corn
  • Cattle feedlots
  • All other animal production
  • Fur-bearing animals and rabbit production
  • Hog/pig farming
  • Fruit and tree nut farming

Since the state has only 3.7 percent fewer farms than in 2007, it is likely that most of these changes are the result of farmers changing their production focus and/or trying new specialty markets. (More details on Indiana’s agriculture production in terms of yield and market value will be discussed in a future article.)

Organic Farming1

Within Indiana, there are 465 farms that meet the following criteria: USDA National Organic Program (NOP) certified organic production, USDA NOP organic production exempt from certification or have acres transitioning into USDA NOP organic production. This analysis focuses on organic farming centers that are either NOP certified or exempt.

Since 2007, Indiana has seen a 12.9 percent increase in the number of certified or exempt organic farms (324 farms). The total number of farms that reported sales of certified or exempt organically produced commodities in 2012 was 283, an 18.4 percent increase from 2007. The value of sales from these operations totaled $35.7 million in 2012, a 311 percent increase from 2007. The average age of these operators was 45 years, and they had been on their farming operation for an average of 16 years. Similar to other farming operations, approximately 39 percent work on the farm full-time.


The 2012 Census of Agriculture shows that agriculture is alive and well in Indiana despite a subtle decline in farmland acreage. Indiana’s farms are becoming larger—likely snapping up farmland as farmers retire or as landowners choose to sell. However, small operations are thriving as well and are likely the ones responsible for the growth evidenced in specialty crops and animal production, as well as organically grown products.

The USDA will release more detailed census data on aquaculture in September 2014, specialty crops in December 2014 and horticulture specialties in December 2015. Nevertheless, the Census of Agriculture provides researchers with plenty of data to analyze in the meantime. Stay tuned for the next two articles in this series, which will delve into more detail.


  1. On the census form, respondents were instructed to indicate if they had organic production according to USDA’s National Organic Program (NOP) in 2012. Respondents reported whether their organic production was certified or exempt from certification and the sales from NOP-produced commodities. They also reported whether they had acres transitioning into NOP production and the value of sales of USDA NOP-certified or exempt organically produced commodities.