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Demographics of Farm Operators/Producers: Age

Massachusetts Agricultural Census 2017

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 2007 to 2017, the average age has increased steadily from 54.9 years (Principal Operator) to 59.7 years (Primary Prodcuer), illustrating the aging Massachusetts farm operator population. 

Figure 6.4 shows the age distributions of principal farm operators for the 2002, 2007, 2012 and 2017 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. In 2017, this trend continued, so that 31.7 percent of primary producers were in the 55 to 64 age category, and 37.7 were in the 65 and over category. Future census years will allow us to distinguish to what extent the growth in the 65 and over category is attributable to aging or to changes in data collection methodology.

There are some bright spots. There 25-34 age category increased between 2002 and 2012, and more or less held steady in 2017, from 181 to 359 operators in 2012, with a slight decline to 337 producers in 2017. While the 35-44 age category decreased from 1,171 in 2002 to 655 in 2012, the loss tapered off in 2017.