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Perspectives - 2022 census of agriculture finally released

2022 census of agriculture finally released
byMatt Oehmichen Agronomist
2022 census of agriculture finally released
byMatt Oehmichen Agronomist


After a year delay, on February 13th the long awaited 2022 Census of Agriculture was posted by the USDA, showing ever piece of data you could ever think of relating to agriculture in every state and county in the United States. The Census of Agriculture is a count of all U.S. farms/ranches that produced and sold at least $1,000 and how each farm used the land, crops grown, ownership, production practices, expenses/ income, etc. in each county/state. It began 1840, as a separate national census, to begin to cataloging agricultural practices in our nation and tracking farmer pursuits. For awhile they would complete a survey for years ending in “4” and “9”, but in 1978 the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed the census to cover years “2” and “7” instead.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service conducts the census. The data comes from and interviews conducted after harvest season, that farmers are federally required to provide responses to. The Census is important and widely used for studies, research, community planners, ag producers, economic planning of companies and cooperatives, and legislators for building policies and farm programs (or so they say). The data sets are massive but are fascinating to go through and compare to previous years. I have been waiting for years to see where our area has been up to since they last surveyed in 2017, and I would like to share those numbers and observations with you.

Today’s article cannot possibly cover every single data topic from the Census, so it will be looking at land use (agronomic practices, popular crops, programs), size of farming (harvested cropland, total farms, dairy farms), and how many livestock and what kind of livestock we have in our respective counties of Clark and Marathon in 2022, and also compared to 2017.

The most glaring thing is the decrease of farmland and the number of farms. In 2022 our state lost 6,000 acres of farm land, our counties lost 9.9% of it’s farm land (346 acres) and had 488 fewer farms than in 2017 (Clark having 1,785 and Marathon 2,059 farms). Of those farms, 26% were dairy farms. As unsettling as this is, it is pale in comparison to the state total of 2,821 dairy farms lost since 2017. Comparing to the rest of Wisconsin, Clark and Marathon had the most cows and dairy farms in the state, 10% of Wisconsin’s total in fact; Clark had 632 dairies with 66,631 milking cows, Marathon had 353 milk farms with 65,598 milking cows. The next highest concentration of milk cows would be in the Green Bay region (Kewaunee, Brown, Manitowoc Co.) with 13% of the state’s total. Even though the majority of the farms lost were dairy farms, the number of cows statistically remained the same. One could correlate this to another data set showing the sizes of farms in Wisconsin. Despite staying around 230 acres in average size for several years in a row, farms 1,000 acres or more have increased by 416 state-wide. Basically, as dairy farms are closing up, the animals get moved to larger facilities with bigger acres. As much as the echoing statement from Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz rings in our ears (he coined the phrase “get big or get out”), not all is what it seems for our farm size demographics: the most numerous farm sizes are between 50 -179 acres, followed by 180-499 acres.

Now for the really fun stuff: crops. Corn silage is “king” around Clark and Marathon counties and for good reason; our two counties grow more silage than anyone else in the state and it’s not even close. So much corn silage in fact, that Clark and Marathon make up 10% of Wisconsin’s total silage acres. Clark County edged out Marathon in acres and production, making 789,448 tons on 40,281 acres, to Marathon’s 697,183 tons on 39,717 acres. Even though 27% of all harvested acres were under corn silage, it is not the number-one produced crop produced. Over 90,000 acres (Clark 93,953 acres, Marathon 97,948 acres) of hay/forage was produced in each county. This makes sense considering not only dairy operations need to feed a lot of moo-cows, but also beef cattle. Clark had 369 beef farms and Marathon had 55. Expanding on that, pasture land in each county was 41,000 acres, and getting more specific in that statistic; over 13,000 acres were “other pasture and grazing land” in Clark and 8,098 in Marathon.

Cash grain row crops of corn and soybeans were a large presence in the 2022 census and small grains (oats and wheat) continue to dwindle in numbers in each passing census, dropping below 6,000 acres for the first time in the census.

Marathon County crops in 2022 are as follows: hay/ forage 97,948 acres, corn grain 84,000 acres, soybeans 67,481 acres, corn silage 39,717 acres, oats 5,759 acres and wheat 4,300 acres. Clark County crops in acres in 2022 are as follows: hay/forage 93,953 acres, corn grain 72,540 acres, soybeans 58,000 acres, corn silage 40,281 acres, wheat 4,044 acres and oats 2,773 acres.

Agronomic practices, concerning tillage and conservation, were also documented in the census, showing that the trend of tilling the soil less and cover cropping more, is growing. “Intensive tillage” (conventional tillage) decreased in Marathon County by 10,000 acres, reduced tillage increased by 26,000 acres, and no-till increased by 60%. Clark County had 158 fewer farms using intensive tillage and 5,264 more acres in cropland planted to cover crops.

The last bit that I want to share from the Census is internet availability that has been a growing topic in rural Wisconsin with a lot of state and federal support backing actions to bring more connectivity to rural businesses to the world wide web. Of all the farmers in Marathon County 74% had internet access, and in Clark it was less, with 56% of all farms with internet access.

We made it to the end, my fellow reader! The 2022 Census does show us that times are changing, for bad or good. For instance as we talked about shrinking acres and farms, what hasn’t decreased is the age of most farmers in our area. An overwhelming amount of farmers are between the ages of 55-74. Some would say that as more and more farmers grow towards retirement, more “For Sale” signs will go up and more land lost from generational farming families. But on the other hand, someone would look at the same data set and see something different; that the farm scene will see a massive change as younger producers begin managing and making decisions on these acres. I could expand on that, but I will leave that for another day.

The data presented were the highlights I took from the Census of Agriculture for Clark and Marathon County 2022 report, but don’t let my article be the last stop for you, these reports that I dug into are fully available online.

Go to 2022/Full_Repo’rt/Census_by_State/Wisconsin/.

The Soil