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American Indians Contributing to U.S. Agriculture

American Indians Operate Six Percent of Farmland

From Indian Country Today newspaper - Washington Staff Reports

American Indians operated 56.8 million farmland acres or 6 percent of the 938 million U.S. farmland acres according to data from the 2002 Census of Agriculture. American Indians sold $1.64 billion of agricultural products including $781 million of crops and $857 million of livestock.

"The 2002 Census of Agriculture shows the great diversity of people involved in U.S. agriculture production," said Ron Bosecker, administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS). "The agriculture census results show that American Indian operators make significant contributions to U.S. agriculture."

The census results indicated that the number of American Indian farm operators identified totaled 42,304 and that most American Indian farm operators reside in Oklahoma (22 percent), followed by Arizona (12 percent), Texas (8 percent), New Mexico (7 percent), and California (5 percent). About 10 percent of the total American Indian farm operators live on Indian reservations.

The 2002 Census of Agriculture is the first to collect the number of operators living on reservations. The 2002 census shows that American Indians:

  • Raised 8 percent of America's bison, 3 percent of the horses, 3 percent of the sheep, and 2 percent of the beef cattle.
  • Sold 100 million broilers, 834,000 cattle and calves, 572,000 hogs and pigs, 130,000 sheep and lambs, 14,000 horses and ponies, and nearly 4,000 bison.
  • Grew 967,000 acres of hay, haylage, grass silage, and greenchop.
  • Harvested 12.3 million bushels of wheat from 350,000 acres. Wheat was grown on more acreage than any other grain.

American Indian farm operators more often reported relying on income not related to agricultural sales compared to all U.S. farm operators.  Half of the operators identify farming as their principal occupation compared with 54 percent for all U.S. operators. In addition to farming, 63 percent of the American Indian operators have other part- or full-time employment. This compares with 56 percent for all U.S. farm operators. 

American Indian farm operators utilize computers more than all U.S. producers. Computers are used on 45 percent of the American Indian farms for record-keeping, checking commodity markets, and other farm business compared with 39 percent for all U.S. farms. The internet can be accessed by 55 percent of the American Indian farms compared with 50 percent for all U.S. farms.

Bosecker said that NASS conducted comprehensive interviews on reservations in Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota to summarize census data at the American Indian reservation level for the first time. For more information, visit NASS at www.usda.gov/nass by clicking on "Census of Agriculture".