Ag Census Reveals Fewer Beef Cow Farms

In the previous SAT livestock article, Dr. Griffith asked about the girls’ whereabouts. Last week, the USDA/NASS released the 2022 Agricultural Census. Every five years, the Census takes a snapshot of U.S. agricultural operations. There is a wealth of interesting insights in the census data.  The data also sheds light on the structural changes in beef cow operations. The decrease in beef cow ranches could slow future herd expansion. 

Figure 1 highlights the decline in beef and milk cow farms. Between 2017 and 2022, 106,844 beef cow ranches disappeared, a 15 percent drop. In the same period, milk cow farms decreased by 34 percent. In contrast to the 2012 drought, we have fewer beef cow ranches to rebuild the herd, making it more challenging to find our girls. The contractions in cow farms are steeper than the overall number of farmers, which has declined by 6.9 percent, according to USDA/NASS. 

Figure 1 – Number of Cow Farms: 2002 – 2022.

Source: 2022 USDA/NASS Census

Although there has been a decline in beef cow farms, the Census has reported an increase of 1,034 ranches with more than 500 head (Fig. 2). From 2017 to 2022, the beef cow herd has decreased by 2.5 million head. However, there has been an increase of 839,603 head in farms with more than 500 head. It indicates industry consolidation, providing insights into where we may find our girls.   

Figure 2 – Number of Beef Cow Farms by Herd Size: 2017 – 2022.

Source: 2022 USDA/NASS Census

Beef cow farms shrunk across all farm size categories (Fig. 3). Most beef cow ranches are between 10 and 49.9 acres. Between 2017 and 2022, this category displayed the smallest drop, 9 percent, showing its resilience. But, during this period, the extremes recorded the most significant declines, producers with 1 to 10 acres declined by 23 percent, and 1000 to 2000 acres ranches declined by 20 percent. Regardless of the production scale, environmental, and economic factors affected beef cow ranches’ survivorship.

Figure 3 – Number of Beef Cow Farms by Herd Size: 2017 – 2022.

Source: 2022 USDA/NASS Census

The 2022 USDA/NASS Agricultural Census reported a decline in beef cow operations from 2017 to 2022.  The census also reported some growth in larger operations.  The effect of fewer total operations on the speed of herd rebuilding remains to be seen.

Calil, Yuri. “Ag Census Reveals Fewer Beef Cow Farms.Southern Ag Today 4(8.2). February 20, 2024. Permalink