What’s a Farm in 2010?

[imgbelt img=tuttlefarm2.jpg]Farmers are getting older and farms are getting bigger. And an increasing amount of farm products is grown or raised under contract, according to a new report on the American farm.

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Before we get on to the report, a definition. A “farm” here is defined as “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products (crops and livestock) were sold or normally would have been sold” in a year.

A “family farm” is “any farm  where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator…including relatives who do not reside in the operator’s household.”

And now, on to the report:

Farms Getting Bigger AND Smaller

After peaking at 6.8 million farms in 1935, the number of U.S. farms fell sharply until the early 1970s.

Falling farm numbers during this period reflect growing productivity in agriculture and increased nonfarm employment opportunities. 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.

The greater stability in farm numbers, however, masks shifts in the size distribution of farms. For example, though farm numbers stabilized from 1978 to 2007, the number of farms operating fewer than 70 acres increased 12 percentage points, the number of “thousand-acre farms” increased 1 percentage point, and the number of farms in all acreage classes in between decreased.

The shift to farms with more than 1,000 acres is more marked when examined in terms of these operations’ land in farms (up 12 percentage points) or market value of sales (up 15 percentage points). Note that farms do not necessarily own all the land they operate; they can also rent land. For example, a farm operating 1,000 acres could own 500 acres and rent 500 acres, or even own no land at all and rent 1,000 acres.

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