The new U.S. Department of Agriculture census released April 11 shows the number of young farmers in Kentucky is increasing.
The USDA Census of Agriculture is done every five years and the newly-released data on crops, acreage and demographics is for the 2017 year. The previous census used as a five-year comparison is based on 2012 data.
David Knopf is regional director of the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service based in Louisville. He said the census shows a significant increase in the number of young farmers in Kentucky.
“I think it’s really encouraging that even while the average age of farmers is increasing slightly, we’re seeing that there is a younger generation that is coming into farming," said Knopf. "In fact, the 2017 census compared to the 2012 census indicates there’s about 30 percent more farmers that are in the 34 years of age or under category than there were in 2012.”
The new census shows that Kentucky currently has 12,200 farmers who are 34 years old or younger. That compares to five years earlier when the Bluegrass State had 9,400 farmers in that age group.
Knopf said some of the increase is likely due to younger members of a family taking over management of farms. But he also sees growing interest among younger farmers in local produce and free-range meat.
“What we see is that these farms tend to not focus so much on field crop production, but more on vegetables, fruits, perhaps other horticultural types of production. And then lots of livestock, whether that's cows, chickens, sheep, goats or hogs,” said Knopf.
The census shows some demographic categories in Kentucky that are not experiencing change, especially in terms of racial and ethnic diversity.
The state has 122,000 farmers who are white. That’s an increase of 11,000 compared to five years earlier. The number of farmers who are Hispanic remained at around 700 over five years. And when it comes to African-American farmers, that number has remained steady at about 500 statewide.