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U.S. farms getting larger as total number continues to fall

The number of farms in the United States continues to fall, while the average size of farms continues to grow, according to a report by USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The February reports estimated 2.08 million farms operating in the United States in 2007, 0.6 percent fewer than in 2006. Total land in farms, at 930.9 million acres, decreased 1.5 million acres, or 0.16 percent, from 2006.

The average farm size was 449 acres during 2007, an increase of 3 acres from the previous year. The decline in the number of farms and land in farms reflects a continuing consolidation in farming operations and diversion of agricultural land to non-agricultural uses.

According to NASS, farm numbers declined in the $1,000 - $9,999 and $10,000 - $99,999 sales classes. The classes represent a sum of agricultural sales and farm program payments. Farm numbers rose slightly in the three largest sales classes, which topped at $100,000, $250,000 and $500,000.

The changes within the sales classes were a result of operations moving to larger sales classes by consolidation or expansion and rising incomes as result of strong commodity prices. Because of rising incomes, many farms and ranches near the top of their sales class in 2006 moved into the next higher sales class in 2007 without adding land or otherwise expanding their operations, according to NASS.

The largest percentage changes from 2006 occurred in the smallest and largest sales classes. Farm numbers declined 1.5 percent, to 1.14 million farms, in the $1,000 - $9,999 sales class. Meanwhile, farm numbers increased 4.4 percent, to 84,970 farms, in the $500,000 and over sales class. The number of farms with less than $100,000 in sales fell 1.2 percent from 2006 while the number of farms with $100,000 or more in sales rose 2.2 percent.

Land in farms also shifted from lower sales classes to higher sales classes. In the $1,000 - $9,999 sales class, land in farms dropped 1.6 percent, to 112.8 million acres, while land operated by farms in the largest sales class, $500,000 and over in sales, increased 1.8 percent, to 217.3 million acres.

Overall, the average farm size increased 3 acres in 2007. However, average farm sizes declined in some of the sales classes due to smaller farms moving up to higher sales classes.

The number of farms with sales of $1,000 or more in Puerto Rico was 13,500 in 2007, down 100 farms from 2006. Land in farms, at 600,000 acres, is down 10,000 acres from the previous year. The average farm size in Puerto Rico in 2007 was estimated at 44 acres.

NASS says there were 967,440 cattle operations in 2007, down slightly from 2006 and 2 percent below 2005. Beef cow operations were down 1 percent from 2006 and 2 percent below 2005. Milk cow operations were 5 percent below last year and 9 percent below two years ago.

The number of hog operations, 65,640, is down slightly from 2006 and down 2 percent from 2005. Operations with 2,000 or more head accounted for 82 percent of the inventory.

There were 70,590 sheep farms in 2007, up 2 percent from 2006 and up 3 percent from 2005. The number of operations with goats totaled 108,130 during 2007, up 4 percent from 2006. Angora goat operations totaled 4,550, down 4 percent from 2006. Milk goat operations totaled 19,930, up slightly from 2006. Meat goat operations totaled 90,270, up 4 percent from 2006.

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