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Ag Census 2012 Summary

Comparison of the 2007 and 2012 censuses may prove the beginning of a fundamental shift in U.S. agriculture and beef cattle production.

USDA released the 2012 Census of Agriculture May 2, providing a long-term view of the structure of agricultural industries. The most recent census is particularly interesting, and a comparison of the 2007 and 2012 censuses illustrates the beginnings of a unique and fundamental shift in U.S. agriculture that is likely to continue for several more years.

The census shows that there was 914.5 million acres of land in farms in 2012, down 0.8% from the 2007 total land in farms. This 914.5 million acres is divided into 389.7 million acres of cropland; 77.0 million acres of woodland; 415.3 million acres of permanent pasture/range; and 32.5 million acres of farmsteads, roads, ponds, etc. Cropland and permanent pasture/range make up 88% of the total land in farms. Total cropland includes harvested cropland of 315 million acres, or 80.8% of total cropland.

The remainder was pastured cropland or land that was idled, including a roughly 4-million-acre increase in land with crop failure or land that was abandoned (likely due to the 2012 drought). Though total cropland was down 4.1% from the 2007 census, harvested cropland was up 1.7% over the five-year period. The harvested cropland total includes acres of hay harvested, which decreased 6.6 million acres (11.3%) from 2007 to 2012. The woodland total includes about 28 million acres, or 36.4% of woodland acres that are pastured.

The breakdown of total farmland into cropland (42.6%) and permanent pasture/range (45.4%) roughly mirrors the magnitudes of crop and livestock production in the country. Permanent pasture and range represent areas where cropping is not possible and is only usable for grazing. However, cropland includes some acres directly related to cattle production, including harvested hay acres and cropland used for pasture. Thus, total pastureland in the United States consists of permanent pasture/range, woodland pasture and cropland used as pasture.

This last category represents the buffer or interface between crop and forage production in the United States because it can be switched from pasture to crop production if relative crop and forage values change. The conversion of pastured cropland to crop production can be accomplished relatively easily, but because it is quite costly to return cropland to pasture, it usually reflects a long-term (more than year-to-year) decision about land use.

It is this land-use category that changed the most from the 2007 census to the 2012 census. Cropland used for pasture dropped from 35.8 million acres in 2007 to 12.8 million acres in 2012, a 64% decrease. This demonstrates the strong incentives that high crop values have placed on reallocating more agricultural land resources into crop production.

Total pastureland in the United States decreased by 17.1 million acres (3.6%) from 2007 to 2012. This was due to the 23-million-acre decrease in cropland pastured despite a 6.5-million-acre increase in permanent pasture/range.

Pastured woodland decreased very slightly from 2007 to 2012. In 2012, pastured cropland represented 2.8% of total pasture acres compared to 7.6% in 2007. The significance of this loss of pasture acres is substantially larger than suggested by these percentages. Cropland pasture is usually significantly more productive than permanent pasture/range on a per-acre basis, so the loss of these acres represents a significantly higher impact on forage production. This loss in pasture production, combined with an 11.3% decrease in hay acres, implies a significant decrease in total forage production potential in the United States.

These changes in land use suggest that the dramatic jump in crop values that began in late 2006 are resulting in structural change in agriculture that has profound implications for the cattle industry. These changes impact how, how much and where cattle production will take place.

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Editor’s Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the May 5 Cow-Calf Corner, a newsletter published by the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, for which Derrell Peel is a livestock marketing specialist.









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