Tennessee Farmers are getting older, but their farms are getting larger

East Tennessee AgResearch and Education Center

Premilinary data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture indicate changes in farmer age, numbers and economic indicators for Tennessee and nationally. Photo courtesy UT AgResearch.

USDA released preliminary results from the 2012 Census of Agriculture during its annual Outlook Conference held on February 20 – 21, 2014. Full census results, which will include county-level data, will be released in May 2014, but Jason Fewell, an assistant professor with the University of Tennessee Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, says the preliminary data already indicate interesting changes from the 2007 Census of Agriculture for Tennessee and U.S. agriculture, including changes in the age of farmers, the numbers of farms and their economic characteristics.

“The number of farmers in all age categories fell in Tennessee,” said Fewell. “The largest drop was for farmers aged 35 to 44 years. Tennessee has 30 percent fewer farmers in this age group, and the number of farmers under 25 years old also dropped by nearly the same percentage.”  Fewell said the number of farmers 55 years of age and older increased nationally, as did the number of farmers from 25 to 34 years old, while the number of farmers aged 35 to 54 fell from 2007 to 2012. The average age of Tennessee farmers increased 2.4 percent from 57.8 to 59.2 years, while the national age of farmers increased 2.1 percent from 57.1 to 58.3 years.

“For both Tennessee and the United States, the number of farms fell over the 5-year period between the Census years,” said Fewell. “However, the number of farms in Tennessee fell by more than 14 percent while nationally, the number of farms fell by just over 4 percent. Also, the average size of farms over this same period increased by nearly 16 percent in Tennessee — from 138 to 160 acres — while the average size of farms in the U.S. increased by 3.8 percent — from 418 to 434 acres,” he said. Nationwide, Fewell also said the report indicates that the amount of land in farms fell by only 0.8 percent, and in Tennessee, this number was 0.9 percent.

The market value of agricultural products sold has increased by 38 percent in Tennessee since 2007. Fewell was not surprised, given the increase in commodity prices over this period. “Tennessee saw significantly higher increases in the average value of agricultural products sold per farm than the U.S. — 60.7 percent versus 38.8 percent — and had nearly 82 percent higher crop, nursery and greenhouse sales in 2012 than 2007. Livestock, poultry, and their products sales were 3.7 percent higher in Tennessee, he said. However, the overall increase in livestock sales throughout the nation was nearly 19 percent, he said.

The number of farms with sales less than $50,000 fell by 15.9 percent in Tennessee and 7.6 percent in the U.S. “This is also not surprising,” said Fewell. “Farm size continues to increase, so an increase in farm sales goes hand in hand.  Perhaps the most interesting result of the Census was the 99.0 percent increase in the number of farms with sales of $1 million or more for Tennessee. Since the last five years have been very profitable for farmers, and since the size of farms increased significantly, this result is expected. For the United States, the number of farms with sales over $1 million increased by 42.5 percent” Fewell said.

The economist noted, however, that Tennessee saw a 7.8 percent decrease in the number of farmers who claim farming as their primary occupation. “In Tennessee, the decrease indicates many farmers still have off-farm jobs or other sources of income. This may be due, in part, to the smaller farm size in Tennessee, since many farms in Tennessee are not large enough to provide full-time salary support to a family,” he said.

More information is available at the USDA Census of Agriculture website: 

UT Extension provides a gateway to the University of Tennessee as the outreach unit of the UT Institute of Agriculture. With an office in every Tennessee county, UT Extension delivers educational programs and research-based information to citizens throughout the state. In cooperation with Tennessee State University, UT Extension works with farmers, families, youth and communities to improve lives by addressing problems and issues at the local, state and national levels.



Jason E. Fewell, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 865-974-7410,


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Comparison of Tennessee and U.S. data from 2007 & 2012 Census of Agriculture