Data reveals “mid-size” farms are disappearing

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Farmland Data shows the average farm size has remained steady over the last 30 years, however, a closer look shows fewer “average” farms and considerably more large and small farms.

The Agricultural Resource Management Survey, USDA’s primary source of farm financial information shows in a 2011 survey of 1.68 million farms the average farm was 234 acres. More analysis reveals four out of five farms are smaller than the average, and the median farm size, the farm smaller than half and larger than half of the 1.68 million farms, was just 45 acres.

A recent article from the USDA’s Economic Research Service says the data is skewed by the growing trend of few farms working more acres. This has increased over the past 30 years with advancements in technology and farm organization.

More efficient equipment, precision farming, genetically engineered seeds and a more prominent role for GPS systems have allowed farms to manage larger farms in the same amount of time, and lower their average cost per acre through a better economy of scale.

From the chart below, the majority of the farms are between 10 and 49 acres, but the majority of the cropland is owned by farms with more than 2,000 acres.

With consolidation and fewer farms owning more cropland, ERS calculations show the midpoint of cropland, the point where half of the acreage is on larger farms and half was on smaller farms, was a farm with 1,100 acres. That average has more than doubled since 1982 when the midpoint acreage for U.S. crop farms was 589 acres.

The shift to larger farms shifted mostly in the 20 years between 1987 and 2007. The midpoint for corn acres tripled in that time from 200 to 600 acres. The shift upward could be in farms purchasing more land, or transitioning land from other crops to corn to take advantage of higher prices as the crop could be used as feed or shipped to ethanol plants.

Among other crops, the midpoint for soybean cropland also increased from 243 acres for the average enterprise in 1987 to 490 acres in 2007.

Click here for the full report.

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kansas  |  September, 05, 2013 at 12:07 PM

1-49 acres is not a viable "farm"(business), unless you're a specialty crop or livestock producer who can gross $20k/acre - w/average after tax net? And I seriously doubt there are many of those in the count. Which means there is no realistic purpose for the USDA or a "Farm Bill" to exist. Well, unless you think we should have a Department of Coffee Shops and a "Coffee Shop Bill", because there are thousands more Coffee Shops than actual, viably sized farms/farmers. Farming/Agriculture is an Industry, not a hobby for people who earn their actual living in town, and it's past time when billions in taxes and thousands of bureaucrats are "employed" supporting and providing benefits to Hobbyists who feed 10s, while those feeding 100s and 1000s are demonized, slandered and libeled in the media. We need to get out of the Government Dependency Circle-Jerk and demand the respect we have earned. Only then will we stop being the punching bag and political football side-show for SNAP, WIC and the School Lunch program for "progressive" and "conservative" politicians who make their bones punching and kicking us around.

Garland Terry    
Oklahoma  |  September, 06, 2013 at 01:14 PM

Amen to that!

TX  |  September, 10, 2013 at 09:51 AM

Let every farmer small or large compete without any subsidies from the government, including crop insurance and soil conservation. Then we shall see a return to real farming instead hobbyist and large welfare farmers.

California  |  September, 13, 2013 at 12:24 PM

I am a 'small', California farmer of sweet cherries, trying to turn our farm into a viable one - been at this for 25 years, starting with only the equity in our house in town, a fulltime, well-paying, off-the-farm job, and, a sincere desire to be a farmer. The obstacles to entry are monstrous and are becoming more so by the day, due to the cost of land, equipment, technology and governmental regulations. Although I have received USDA subsidies, I agree with commenter Lajaw's call to eliminate them. The problem is that this may be nearly impossible, since our whole society is overwhelmed with subsidies for all kinds of purposes and to all socio-economic groups. And, the subsidy system itself is a support system for all of those who manage and implement it, not to mention the politicians who appeal to their voters for continuation and expansion of these subsidies. In addition, the "breakdown of the family" puts women with children in the position of turning to the government for financial support that is lacking from absent husbands. Need any comments be made here about the consequences for their children? Trevon Martin might be one, sufficient example. The whole system may be on the verge of collapse, or, a complete takeover of the distribution of resources by "the government". We are headed, apparently willingly, into a soviet style system of governmental controls that collapsed eventually in the USSR by its own economic inefficiency and corruption. I applaud anyone who has a dream to become a farmer in America, but, "Unless one inherits a viable farm or the bulk resources need to do build one, or, marries someone in a viable farming business already, it may best to just forget it." This is unfortunate.

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