Economic Tidbits

More Women Producers

Tidbits recently highlighted producer numbers in Nebraska and the fact they are increasing despite the decline in the number of farms. Between 2012-2022, producers increased from 74,786 to 80,283, an increase of 7 percent. At the same time, though, the makeup of Nebraska producers is changing. This week, Tidbits plumbs these demographic changes.

An ongoing trend for years has been the aging of Nebraska producers. The average age of farmers increased 2.6 years between 2012-2022, from 54.3 years to 56.9 years. Figure 1 illustrates the reasons behind the trend by graphing the number of producers in several age categories over the last three agricultural censuses—2012, 2017, and 2022. As Figure 1 shows, a large increase in the number of producers aged 65 and older has occurred. In 2022 the number of producers of this age was up 69 percent from 2012 and accounted for 37 percent of all producers. In 2012, they made up just 23 percent. At the other end of the spectrum, the number of producers under the age of 35 also grew, but only by 7 percent. The share of young producers has remained constant at 11 percent, slightly better than the U.S. share of 9 percent. Clearly, producers are aging. 

FIGURE 1. NEBRASKA PRODUCERS BY AGE CATEGORY – 2012, 2017, & 2022

Source: USDA Census of Agriculture

Another trend is the growing number of female producers. In fact, increasing numbers of female producers is the cause behind overall producer numbers trending higher. Female producers increased 33 percent between 2012-2022, from 19,851 to 26,234, while male producers fell 1 percent. Females accounted for 33 percent of Nebraska producers in 2022, 44th among states. Arizona and Alaska were the top states with almost 48 percent of producers who were female. Most farms with female producers are larger than 500 acres—32 percent. And 37 percent of female producers are 65 years or older.

Figures 2 and 3 shed more light on Nebraska female producers in counties. Figure 2 maps the number of female producers in 2022 while Figure 3 shows female producers as a share of total producers. Female producers in counties ranged from 37 in Grant County to 1,202 in Lancaster County. Counties with more land area (i.e. Holt, Custer, and Lincoln) or greater populations (Lancaster and Gage) tended to have the most female producers. And counties with more female producers were concentrated in the Panhandle and eastern Nebraska. When looking at females as a share of total producer numbers, a different picture appears. Females as a share of total producers ranged from 21 percent in Fillmore County to 45 percent in Hayes County. The share of female producers exceeded 40 percent in seven counties. Interestingly, these counties are in the western one-third of the state and six of them are in the Panhandle.

FIGURE 2. FEMALE PRODUCERS BY COUNTY, 2022

Source: USDA Census of Agriculture, 2022

FIGURE 3. FEMALE PRODUCERS AS A SHARE OF PRODUCERS, 2022

Source: USDA Census of Agriculture, 2022

What to make of these trends? First, the aging farm population is not unique to Nebraska. It is a nationwide trend. Is it something to worry about? Carl Zulauf of the Ohio State University in a recent farmdoc article argues it isn’t. He points out that over the last half century farmers in the U.S. have become younger relative to the U.S. population. Zulauf writes, “Since 1960, the average age of US farmers has increased 7.6 years while the median age of the US population has increased 8.8 years.” In other words, people engaged in all professions are aging.

The growth of female farmers might be partially due to a growing recognition of the contributions which have always been made by women on farms. But growing recognition can’t entirely explain the trend. Society is becoming more accepting of females in traditionally male-dominated professions, opening the door for more female farmers. Plus, greater female participation in organizations like Future Farmers of America (FFA), and increased interest by women in college degrees related to agriculture, could be spurring more interest in careers in agriculture leading to more female producers.

Finishing off, the aging of Nebraska producers suggests a massive transition of farm assets from one generation of producers to the next is about to occur. It’s increasingly likely that those persons taking over the family farm will be female.

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