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Demographics of Farm Operators: Age

Massachusetts Agricultural Census 2012

The average age of the principal farm operator for Massachusetts farms stayed fairly constant from 1964 through 1997 (Figure 6.3). In 1964 the average age was 53.6 years and in 1997 (using the adjusted Census data) the average age was 54.2 years.  The average age dipped a bit through the late 70s and 80s, reaching a low of 51.5 years. From 2002 to 2012, the average age has increased steadily from 54.9 years to 57.8 years, illustrating the aging Massachusetts farm operator population. 

Figure 6.4 shows the age distributions of principal farm operators for the 2002, 2007 and 2012 Census of Agriculture years. The graph illustrates the changing shape of the principal farm operator age distributions. In 2002, the greatest proportion of principal farm operators were in the 45-54 age category (30.4 percent), giving the age distribution a distinct peak or modal category. As we would expect when there are few younger entrants, the age distribution changed shape with the modal category moving to the older age categories. In 2007, 29.1 percent of the principal operators were in the 45-54 category, virtually equivalent to the proportion in the 55-64 category (29 percent). In 2012, the 31.1 percent of the principal farm operators were in the 55-64 age category and the 65 and over category had grown to 30 percent.

There are some bright spots. The number of farm operators under 25 has increased each year, growing from 29 farm operators in 2002 to 49 in 2007 and 60 in 2012. There have also been increases in the numbers in the 25-34 age category, from 181 in 2002 to 292 in 2007 and 359 in 2012. Discouraging news appears across the center of the distribution. In the 35-44 age category, the number of farm operators was 1,171 in 2002. In 2007, that number dropped by about 200 farmers, many of whom would have moved into the 45-54 category, which did increase by around 400 farm operators. Thus, Massachusetts lost farm operators from this age group and it appears that few continued in farming in 2007 from the 2002 25-34 age group. The number in the 35-44 age group dropped by over 300 farm operators in 2012 (655 farm operators were in that age category). The number of operators in the 45-54 age category also dropped, by more than 300 farms. Thus, Massachusetts had a number of middle-aged farmers leave farming between 2007 and 2012.