NASS LogoCensus of Agriculture
Agricultural Economics and Land Ownership Survey (1988)


To provide detailed estimates of agricultural land ownership, financing, and inputs by farm operators and landlords for each state. The United States Code, Title 13, authorizes this survey and provides for mandatory responses.


Farm or ranch operators that participated in the census of agriculture, were classified in SIC Major Group 01 or 02, and sold or normally would have sold $1000 worth of agricultural products in the post-census calendar year; and landlords of those operators. The 1988 survey provided estimates for 3 million agricultural landholders and 1.8 million farms.


Landlords and operators provide data on their share of farm operating expenditures, capital improvements, assets, and debt for agricultural production. All landowners provide data on when and how agricultural land was purchased, type of land held, number and type of lease arrangements, real estate taxes paid, new land purchases, and sources of financing new purchases.

Operators provide data on farm-related income, government payments, the source and amount of off-farm income, type of farm work and characteristics for themselves and their family. Landlords provide data on their participation in farm decisionmaking, net cash income from all agriculture activities, type of organization, and individual characteristics.


As needed for years following the census of agriculture; about every 10 years. The last survey was for 1988, comparable surveys were conducted for 1979 and 1970, and limited surveys were taken for 1965 and 1960. Previously, questions were included in cens uses beginning in 1840 (finance), 1880 (tenure) and 1890 (mortgage debt). Operator data collection begins 1 month after the post-census year, and reported data are for activities taking place during the post-census calendar year.


A two-stage, mail-out/mail-back survey of over 44,000 operators and 44,000 private landlords; separate forms are used for operators and their landlords. Operators are selected by systematic sample to assure adequate coverage by state and minimize reportin g burden. Strata are based on state, operator tenure and value of agricultural sales; probability of selection is higher for operators that are part-owners, tenants or have large sales. Landlords are identified by operators and subsequently sent a surv ey form.

For 1988, a total of 500 farm and ranch operators with large total value of sales (varying by state) were selected with certainty, and 43,625 operators were selected from non-certainty strata. Operators identified 47,000 landlords; about 3,000 landlords not mailed forms that either had insufficient name and address information or were public landlords. Public landlords include Indian reservations, the Bureau of Land Management, State and railroad companies. Some data were imputed for public landlords, they consisted of acres and value of the land rented to operators. The sample did not include horticultural specialty farms, institutional (abnormal) farms, successors of farmers that quit or retired from farming since 1987, or new operations that began in 1988.


The 1988 Agricultural Economics and Land Ownership Survey report, released 18 months after the survey year, and provides estimates of farm and ranch land acquisition and ownership, capitalization and debt, operating inputs and costs, and operator-landlor d relationships. Major tabulations include landlord debt structure, operator assets and debts, and operator sources of income.


The Economic Research Service (USDA) uses the data to assess changes in land ownership patterns over the past twenty years. The Farmers Credit Administration uses the debt to asset ratios and net cash return for analysis of debt structure by type of farms . The Congressional Budget Office uses the data for economic policy analysis. State agriculture offices and farm organizations use the statistics to check data and benchmarks for estimating, economic analysis. Land-grant universities use them for economic policy analysis.


Provides the only comprehensive source of data on land ownership, and inputs contributed to agricultural production by landlords.