A notable characteristic of principal farm operators (those most responsible for running the farm) is their relatively advanced age, according to the USDA Economic Research Service report "America's Diverse Family Farms: 2017 Edition."

Thirty-six percent of principal farm operators were at least 65 years old, compared with only 14% of self-employed workers in non-agricultural businesses. Older operators ran 37% of all small family farms — those with annual gross cash farm income (GCFI) before expenses under $350,000 —including 68% of retirement farms and 38% of low-sales farms. By comparison, older operators ran 21% of large family farms (GCFI of $1 million to $4,999,999) and 23% of very large family farms (GCFI of $5 million or more).

Improved health and advances in farm equipment enable operators to farm later in life than in past generations. The farm is also home for most farmers, and they can gradually phase out of farming by renting out or selling parcels of their land. Some larger, more commercially oriented farms run by older farmers may have a younger, secondary operator who might eventually replace the principal operator.

See the chart below for more details.