Last week USDA released preliminary results of the 2012 Nationwide Agricultural Census, and a summary comparison of statistics for the U.S. Southwest is both revealing and interesting.

Of particular note, the number of young farmers, age 25 to 34 years, in the Southwest is going up in New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas, with New Mexico scoring the greatest increase in that age range. In the region, only New Mexico scored higher than the national 6.6 growth rate for that age range.

Also interesting to note, the total number or farming and ranching operations jumped significantly in New Mexico, up 18.1 percent in 2012 over 2007 census numbers. In Texas there were slightly more farms and ranches, about a 3 percent increase. Oklahoma lost farms and ranches in the latest census, down by 7 percent. Nationwide, there was a loss of 4.3 percent of farms and ranches from the 2007 census numbers.

Total acres dedicated to agricultural production rose nearly 3 percent in Texas, was down 1.6 percent in Oklahoma and fell 3.9 percent in New Mexico since the 2007 census. Nationally, the U.S. lost 0.9 percent of land area that had been dedicated to farming and ranching.

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The average age of farmers in the Southwest rose slightly for New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas collectively, an average age of about 60. Nationally, most farmers fall into the 55 to 64 year old age range but nearly 65 percent of the nation's farmers are over  55 and nearly 80 percent are older than 45.

Over the five-year period from the 2007 agriculture census to the 2012 agriculture census, the number of farms in Texas increased but lost an estimated 200,000 production acres. Overall, Texas leads the nation in total acres dedicated to agriculture with just over 130 million used to produce crops and livestock.

In spite of the punishing multi-year drought, Texas led the nation once again. According to the most recent census, livestock sales in 2012 totaled just over $18 billion. Crop sales in Texas amounted to nearly $7.5 billion according to preliminary census statistics. Over the five years since the last census, the market value of all of Texas agriculture rose by an estimated 21 percent.

Drought continues

Concerning livestock production nationwide, the drought of recent years has taken its toll. The 2012 census reported several historic changes in value of sales. In 2012, crop sales of $212.4 billion exceeded livestock sales of $182.2 billion, only the second time this has occurred in census history. The other time was in 1974.

More women are farming and ranching in Texas, a significant increase over the 2007 census. USDA says the number of women in agriculture in the Lone Star State is up by as much 10 percent. The number of males farming and ranching in Texas is down 2 percent.