USDA NASS Census Proves Agriculture is Vital to Iowa's Economy

DES MOINES, Iowa (April 11, 2019) – Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig commented on the USDA NASS 2017 Census of Ag report released today. 

“Thank you to all the farmers who participated in the 2017 Census of Ag. This data gives us a valuable snapshot of the crop and livestock production happening right here in Iowa, and it reaffirms that agriculture is vital to the state’s economy,” said Secretary Naig. “We generated almost $29 billion in crop and livestock sales in 2017, and livestock sales now exceed crop sales by 4 percent. Iowa remains number one in corn and pork production, and planted cover crop acres increased 256 percent since the 2012 census.”

Census Overview

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) today released the 2017 Census of Agriculture results sharing a wide-range of information about Iowa’s farms and ranches and those who operate them, including new data about on-farm decision making, down to the county level. Information collected directly from producers tells us both farm numbers and land in farms have small percentage declines since the last Census in 2012 and the average age of all farmers and ranchers continues to rise. 

The Census information will be used by farmers, ranchers, local officials, agribusiness, commodity groups and others to guide future decisions, in evaluating and implementing policies, and to educate consumers, which will provide a return on the investment made by the thousands of farmers who completed their Census form.

“We are pleased to deliver Census of Agriculture results, especially to the farmers and ranchers who participated,” said Greg Thessen, NASS’ Upper Midwest Regional Director. The Census provides a wide range of demographic, economic, land, and crop and livestock production information. Many of these data about Iowa and our counties are only collected and reported as part of the every-five-year census.”

The 2017 Census of Agriculture data show the following key trends for Iowa:

  • There are 86,104 farms (down 2.9 percent from 2012) with an average size of 355 acres (up 2.9 percent) on 30.6 million acres (down 0.2 percent).
  • The value of agricultural products sold by Iowa farmers totaled $29.0 billion, down 6 percent or $1.87 billion from 2012. Crop sales accounted for $13.8 billion of the total, down 20 percent from 2012, while livestock sales accounted for $15.1 billion, up 12 percent from 2012.
  • Iowa ranked 2nd nationally for total value of agricultural products sold and livestock sales in 2017 with Iowa’s crop sales ranking 3rd highest.
  • Farmers in Sioux, Lyon, Plymouth, Washington, and Kossuth counties had the largest value of sales in Iowa for 2017.
  • Farmers spent a total of $23.5 billion on production expenses in 2017, down 1 percent from the $23.7 billion in 2012.
  • Farmers harvested crops from 24.3 million acres in 2017 with no-till practices used on 8.20 million acres (up 18 percent from 2012) and reduced (conservation) tillage practices used on 10.1 million acres (up 16 percent).
  • Farms with internet access rose from 74 percent in 2012 to 80 percent in 2017.

For the 2017 Census of Agriculture, NASS changed the demographic questions to better represent the roles of all persons involved in on-farm decision making. As a result, in 2017 the number of Iowa producers is up nearly 11 percent to 143,447, because more farms reported multiple producers. Most of these newly identified producers are female. While the number of male producers fell 3.2 percent to 94,382 from 2012 to 2017, the number of female producers increased by nearly 53 percent to 49,065. This change underscores the effectiveness of the questionnaire changes.

Other demographic highlights include:

  • The average age of all Iowa producers is 57.4, up 1.8 years from 2012.
  • There are 14,986 young producers age 35 or less on 11,136 farms. Young producers are more involved in making decisions regarding livestock than any other age group.
  • Just over one in five producers is a beginning farmer with 10 or fewer years of experience and an average age of 43.7.
  • The number of Iowa producers who have served in the military is 12,829, or 9 percent of all producers. They are older than the average at 70.1 years of age.
  • Thirty-four percent of all Iowa producers are female with the largest percentage of female producers involved in record keeping and financial management along with day-to-day decisions.

Results are available in many online formats including video presentations, a new data query interface, maps, and traditional data tables. To address questions about the 2017 Census of Agriculture data, NASS will host a live Twitter chat (@usda_nass) Ask the Census Experts #StatChat on Friday, April 12 at 1 p.m. ET. All information is available at

The Census tells the story of American agriculture and is an important part of our history. First conducted in 1840 in conjunction with the decennial Census, the Census of Agriculture accounts for all U.S. farms and ranches and the people who operate them. After 1920, the Census happened every four to five years. By 1982, it was regularly conducted once every five years. Today, NASS sends questionnaires to nearly 3 million potential U.S. farms and ranches. Nearly 25 percent of those who responded did so online. 

Conducted since 1997 by USDA NASS – the federal statistical agency responsible for producing official data about U.S. agriculture – it remains the only source of comprehensive agricultural data for every state and county in the nation and is invaluable for planning the future.


About the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship

Led by Secretary Mike Naig, the Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship serves the rural and urban residents that call Iowa home. Through its 12 diverse bureaus, the Department ensures animal health, food safety and consumer protection. It also promotes conservation efforts to preserve our land for the next generation. Learn more at

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