Who owns the land of America?

A new survey by the Agriculture Department found, perhaps not surprisingly, that a small number of white men over 50 are the biggest landowners in this country, and of those, farmers are the largest single group of owners.

The 1978 survey of more than 37,000 individuals, partnerships and corporations, which was issued this month, was intended to find out more about the 28.8 million owners of 1.2 billion acres of privately held U.S. land. The results will be used to help design government programs affecting land use, such as conservation and farm production.

Of the 60 percent of American soil that is owned by the private sector -- the remainder belongs to the government -- half is owned by only 1 percent of the landowners. USDA has divided landowners into "ownership units;" thus a unit could be an individual or a giant corporation.

Stated another way, about 3 percent of the available land is divided among three-fourths of the landowners. The survey notes, however, that many of these are owners of residential and commercial properties on small lots.

Nine out of 10 private landowners are white and non-Hispanic. They own 97 out of 100 acres in this country; blacks, representing 4 percent of the owners, own just 1 percent of the private land.

Four out of five landowners were identified as males. However, USDA notes this statistic does not fully recognize female ownership participation through husband-and-wife holdings. About one third of the land is owned jointly by couples.

Only 0.1 percent of the landowners were foreigners.