August 31, 2007

3 Min Read

Who is farming America's land? It's family farmers for the most part. Data from the USDA show that family farms make up 98 percent of all U.S. farms. Those family farms account for 85 percent of U.S. agricultural production.

“The family farm is the heart and soul of rural America,” said Bobby Coats, agricultural policy analyst with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. “Producing food and fiber for the domestic market as well as for the foreign consumer is a highly competitive and challenging business. The success of the family farms lies with their team effort.”

Data from the USDA indicate 90 percent of all U.S. farms are considered small family farms, with sales of less than $250,000. These farms account for 68 percent of all farm assets and produce 25 percent of the agricultural production, Coats said. Small family farmers own 61 percent of farm land.

Coats said large-scale family farms, with sales larger than $250,000, represent 7.5 percent of all U.S. farms and 25 percent of farm assets. The large-scale family farm produces 60 percent of the value of U.S. production.

“If you lump all family farms together, they produce 85 percent of all U.S. agricultural production, while the corporate-type farms produce only 15 percent of U.S. production,” Coats said.

Coats said small family farms include: limited-resource farms, retirement farms, residential lifestyle farms and farms with farming as the major occupation.

Limited resource farms have gross sales of less than $105,000 and have low household income. These farms represent 9.4 percent of all U.S. farms and produce 1 percent of total agricultural production.

Retirement farms are small farms whose operators report they are retired. These farms represent 16.1 percent of all U.S. farms and produce 2 percent of total agricultural production.

Residential lifestyle farms are small farms whose operators report a major occupation other than farming. These farms represent 40 percent of all U.S. farms and produce 5 percent of total agricultural production.

Small farms, with operators reporting farming as their major occupation and with gross sales less than $249,999, represent 25 percent of all U.S. farms and produce 16 percent of total agricultural production.

Coats said USDA statistics show that farms have been getting larger over the past two decades.

“In this brave new global economy, our producers must be competitive with their domestic and global counterparts,” he said. The new global consumer's provider of choice, he said, will typically be the low cost producer.

“This is causing significant change in the farming sector,” noted Coats. “As you would expect, U.S. farms are consolidating. They're focused on increasing their productivity and becoming larger to reduce their per-unit cost. For small farms, productivity advances are important, but you also see increases in off farm income, which allows the small farms to be competitive with their larger counterparts.”

Even though farms are getting larger, they're retaining family ties.

Eighty-eight percent of million-dollar farms are family operations, according to Coats. Million-dollar farms make-up only 2 percent of all farms, but they account for 48 percent of the sales of farm products, with the sales of their farm products being up 23 percent from 1982. At the same time, the share of sales by farms with less than $250,000 have fallen from 53 percent in 1982 to 24 percent.

Among million-dollar farms, the most common specializations are: specialty crops (such as fruits, nuts and vegetables), 27 percent; poultry, 19 percent; dairy, 14 percent; and hogs, 10 percent.

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