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Crosstabs - A Closer Look at the Economics & Demographics of Colorado

Highlights from the 2017 Census of Agriculture

Jan 29, 2020 • Colorado State Demography Office

Highlights from the 2017 Census of Agriculture

This blog primarily highlights data from the 2017 Census of Agriculture. This Census is conducted every 5 years by the USDA and provides data on any plot of land that produces more than $1,000 of fruit, vegetables, or livestock in a year.

  Photo by Helena Lopes

The number of farms in Colorado rose by 7.5% or 2,713 since 2012, continuing an upward growth trend that began 20 years ago. Most increase in farm operations occurred at smaller farms, with the number of farms on 50 acres or less rising by 26% since 2012 to just under 18,000. The 38,893 farms represents the most farms in the state since 1954 when Colorado had 40,749. A total of 69,032 producers were reported, of which 26,837 claimed farming as their primary occupation. These “primary farmers” are the basis of the 26,900 estimated agriculture proprietors in the SDO total estimated jobs series. Additionally there are 23,500 wage & salary positions for producers or support positions for agriculture, bringing total Agriculture employment in Colorado to 50,400 in 2018. Agriculture ranks as the 4th smallest industry in the state, just behind Federal Government; however, in many smaller, rural counties agriculture is the top employing industry.

Considering that rural Colorado tends to be less diverse and skews older than the state overall, it should be no surprise that agriculture producers in Colorado tend to be older and whiter. The average age of a producer was 57.6 years old and one out of every three producers in the state is over the age of 65. With about 3,800 producers of Hispanic or Latino origin, this ethnic group accounts for 5.5% of farmers vs. 21.3% of the statewide population in 2017.

The market value of agricultural products sold in Colorado in 2017 was nearly $7.5 billion dollars, down about 4% from 2012. Livestock, poultry and products comprised 70% of the sales at $5.25 billion; 12th highest total in the nation. Cattle and calves accounted for nearly $4 billion of the livestock sold, placing Colorado as the 5th largest producer nationally. While milk from cows ranks as the 3rd most valuable product produced in Colorado, coming in at $703.6 million. Hogs & pigs brought in some serious bacon for farmers, accounting for $234.6 million in sales. Although the value of sheep, goats and wool was just under $150 million in sales, Colorado ranks first in the U.S. for this product and the value of sales from these animals is up 59% from 2012.

With $2.24 billion in crops sold, Colorado was the median state in the nation ranking 25th. Grains, oilseeds, dry beans and peas accounted for the bulk of crop sales at $1.22 billion, but 19 other states sold more of this produce than Colorado. Colorado was the 3rd largest producer of sunflower seeds in the U.S. with more than 77 million pounds produced. Colorado ranked in the top 15 for the following commodities: Other crops and hay (11th); vegetables, melons, and potatoes (14th); and nursery, greenhouse, floriculture, sod (15th). These three categories combined accounted for nearly $1 billion in sales.

Just under 32 million acres of the state’s 66.5 million acres of land area are devoted to agriculture, a figure that is essentially unchanged over the past decade. The most common use of farmland was pasture (18.8 million acres), followed by 11.1 million acres of cropland and 1.3 million acres of woodland. Only 44% of farms have irrigation; total irrigated acreage increased by 245,000 from 2012 to 2.76 million. Due to an increase in the number of smaller farms, the average size of a farm in Colorado declined from 881 acres in 2012 to 818 acres; the average irrigated acres per farm was 161.

In terms of acres planted, the top crops were wheat for grain (2.1 million), forage or hay at 1.5 million, corn for grain at 1.3 million, sorghum for grain at 346,000 acres, and 287,000 acres of millet. Potatoes covered nearly 60,000 acres, mostly in the San Luis Valley. The western slope was home to the majority of the 4,000 acres of sweet corn, 2,700 acres of peaches and 1,500 acres of apples harvested. Sugar beets for sugar covered 32,000 acres and yielded over 1 million tons for the first time in 20 years.

With nearly 2.1 million acres of land in farms, Weld County leads in the state, followed by Las Animas at nearly 1.8 million and Lincoln, Baca, and Yuma all with between 1.4 and 1.5 million acres. As of December 31, 2017, there were 2.8 million cattle and calves in the state’s livestock inventory (10th most in the nation) – which equates to one cow for every two residents of the state in 2017! With 4.5 million chickens that are layers and another 1.8 million pullets (or young hens), there were 6.3 million chickens in Colorado. The Ag Census gives an accurate count of the livestock in Colorado once every 5 years; the Decennial Census occurs half as frequently, which makes it imperative that all Colorado residents are counted in the spring of 2020.

For more information on the 2020 Census (of people), please visit: