BY ANGELINA MARTIN

Nearly 3 million U.S. farms and ranches participated in the 2017 Census of Agriculture, and the results released this week show that growers in Stanislaus County continue to be among the most productive in the nation.

The USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service conducts the Census every five years, offering an expansive look at agricultural data for every state and county in the nation. The Census looks at land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income and expenditures and other topics, and this information is used by federal, state and local governments that serve farmers and rural communities. Legislators also use data from the Census when shaping farm policy, and agribusinesses factor it into their planning efforts.

“The Census shows new data that can be compared to previous censuses for insights into agricultural trends and changes down to the county level,” NASS Pacific Region Director Gary R. Keough said.

For the first time, the 2017 Census of Agriculture provides data on topics such as military status and on-farm decision making, and the results are available in many online formats like a new data query interface, as well as traditional data tables. Also, nearly 25 percent of those who responded to the Census did so online. These online features make it easier for ag stakeholders to “delve into the data,” Keough said.

America is now home to two million farms, according to the Census, which consist of 900 million acres that produced $389 billion in agricultural products in 2017. While that number dropped from $394.6 billion in 2012, 2017 returns to the longer-term trend of crop and livestock commodities both accounting for half of that number.

Stanislaus County’s ag commodity total sales increased, going from $2.23 billion in 2012 to $2.52 billion in 2017. The total number of farm operations in the county declined from 4,143 in 2012 to 3,621 in 2017, however larger acreage farms (500 to 999 acres) increased from 113 to 125 over the five-year period. Nationally, the number of mid-sized farms declined between 2012 and 2017 — only very small farms (annual sales of $2,500 or less) and very large farms (sales of $5 million or more) increased in number.

Stanislaus County, along with Fresno, Kern, Merced, Monterey, San Joaquin and Tulare counties, leads all U.S. counties in sales, with animal sales coming in as its agricultural product with the top market value ($1.19 billion) and fruit and tree nuts coming in second ($1 billion). Both of these commodities increased in sales from 2012 to 2017 — fruits and nuts by $170 million and animals by $20 million.

One industry that saw a decline in Stanislaus County from 2012 to 2017 was dairy. The county went from having 238 milk farms in 2012 to 190 in 2017, with milk sales declining by nearly $15 million during that time. The sale of cattle, including calves, however, increased by $15 million.

Statewide, California’s top commodities were fruits and nuts with $17.5 billion in farmgate value, vegetables with $8.2 billion, milk with $6.5 billion, cattle and calves with $3.1 billion and horticulture with $2.9 billion.

The average age of the farmer in California is 59.2, up from 57.9 in 2012, and military veterans account for 10 percent of the state’s growers. In Stanislaus County, there are 525 farmers with military service under their belts. Over 6,000 farmers in the county are white, compared to eight native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander farmers, 16 African American farmers, 179 Asian farmers, 72 American Indian or Alaska native farmers and 718 Hispanic farmers. About 33 percent of farmers in Stanislaus County are women, and the other 67 percent are male.

Census results are available in many online formats for those interested, including video presentations, a new data query interface, maps, and traditional data tables. All Census of Agriculture information is available at www.nass.usda.gov/AgCensus.