- Associated Press - Thursday, February 20, 2014

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - Farmers in South Carolina continue to gray and, for most of them, tilling the land is not their primary occupation, according to a snapshot of agriculture released Thursday.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s preliminary Census of Agriculture, compiled every five years, also found that while the state has fewer farms than several years ago, slightly more land is now devoted to agriculture.

In 2012, there were almost 25,300 farms in the state, down about 600 from 2007. But the 5 million acres of land in cultivation in 2012 was an increase of about 80,000 acres from five years earlier.

According to the census, the average age of a farmer in South Carolina is 59.5 years, a year older than they were in 2007. The census also reported that while about 10,000 farmers report they farm full time, almost 15,000 say it is not their primary occupation.

The average size of a farm in South Carolina is now just under 200 acres.

The census reported that just over 4,000 farms were operated by women while blacks were the principal operators of 2,025 farms in 2012, down 83 from five years earlier. Almost 20,000 of the principal operators of farms in the state report they have been on their present farm for more than a decade.

In 2012, the market value of agricultural products from South Carolina was just over $3 billion, the census reported.

The federal government has taken agricultural census since 1840. It defines a farm as any place where $1,000 worth of agricultural products were produced and sold during the census year.

The final results of the census, which could have some minor changes, will be released later this year.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service mailed 3 million questionnaires to farmers and ranchers in December of 2012. The agency also used phone, online and face-to-face interviews to collect responses.

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