Are Family Farms Thriving?Posted: March 6, 2012
You’ve heard it before, 98% of all farms are family owned in America. Big agribusiness wants to emphasize this because it implies less corporate influence on the farm. Family farmers want to emphasize this because they want us to know they’re still around and working on the farm! A true in-depth analysis of the individual aspects of family farms in America would require a book to be written. For the purposes of short attention spans, I’ll keep it much shorter.
A Brief History of Farms
“After peaking at 6.8 million farms in 1935, the number of U.S. farms fell sharply until the early 1970s (fig. 2). Falling farm numbers during this period reflect growing productivity in agriculture and increased nonfarm employment opportunities (Hoppe, et al., 2007, p. 4). Growing productivity led to excess capacity in agriculture, farm consolidation, and farm operators leaving farming to work in the nonfarm economy. The decline in farm numbers slowed in the 1980s and essentially stopped in the 1990s.” ~ USDA 2010 Family Farm Report
From the 2010 Family Farm Report (USDA):
“Three features of U.S. farm structure stand out (fig. 4). First, small family farms make up 88 percent of all U.S. farms. Second, large-scale family farms—only 9 percent of all farms—account for a disproportionately large, 66-percent share of the value of production. Third, farming is still an industry of family businesses. Ninety-eight percent of farms are family farms, and they account for 82 percent of production. Only 2 percent of U.S farms are nonfamily farms, accounting for the remaining 18 percent of production.”
“Small family farms—annual sales less than $250,000—made up 88 percent of U.S. farms in 2007. They also held about 64 percent of all farm assets, including 63 percent of the land owned by farms. As custodians of the bulk of farm assets—including land—small farms have a large role in natural resource and environmental policy. Small farms accounted for 76 percent of the land enrolled by farmers in USDA land-retirement programs, largely in the Conservation Reserve Program.”
“Nevertheless, very large family farms and nonfamily farms produce the largest share of agricultural output. Large-scale family farms (annual sales of $250,000 or more), plus nonfamily farms, made up only 12 percent of U.S. farms in 2007 but accounted for 84 percent of the value of U.S. production. Although small family farms produced only 16 percent of agricultural output, they made more significant contributions to the production of specific commodities: hay, tobacco, cash grains and soybeans, and beef cattle.”
“For the most part, large-scale farms are more viable businesses than small family farms.”
“Small-farm households rely on off-farm income. Given small farms’ poor financial performance, why do so many continue to exist? Small-farm households typically receive substantial off-farm income and do not rely primarily on their farms for their livelihood. Most of their off-farm income is from wage-and-salary jobs or self-employment. Households operating retirement farms, however, receive most of their off-farm income from such sources as Social Security, pensions, dividends, interest, and rent.”
One more brief set of numbers:
Dairy Farmers: “…the number of American families remaining in milk farming has plummeted from roughly 165,000 20 years ago, to less than 50,000 today.” @civileats
Hog Farmers: In 1980, there were about 660,000 hog farms. In 2010, there were 69,100 hog farms in America.”
Do you think the consolidation of agriculture into bigger and more intensive operations has been kind to the family farmer?