Family Farms Dominate U.S. Agriculture
By Capital Press
Let us forever lay to rest the popular fiction that family-owned and operated farms are a small minority and the accompanying corollary that corporations are taking over U.S. agriculture.
It just isn’t so. It never was, and it never will be.
In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently produced a study which found 98 percent of the two million farms in the U.S. are family farms. This is a far cry from chatter online about the demise of the family farm.
“Family farmers are disappearing across rural America, small American farmers are nearing extinction and how America’s food giants swallowed the family farmers,” are just three of the headlines continuing to proliferate on the internet and elsewhere, announcing the death of the family farm.
The paraphrase Mark Twain reports of the demise of the family farm are greatly exaggerated.
This is not to say farming is getting easier for families or anyone else. More regulations, rules, mandates and requirements continue to target farms and ranches.
What lawmakers and their siblings, the rulemakers, don’t realize is nearly every new regulation comes with a sheaf of new reporting requirements. And, those requirements mean farmers must spend more time shuffling paperwork and less time growing crops and raising livestock.
It is this eight and one-half by 11 burden which causes many small farmers to consider selling their operations to larger farms that have staff dedicated to keeping the paperwork in order. If a person wants to bemoan the plight of the family farmer, they should first understand fewer regulations are needed – not more.
One might wonder, “If most farms are family operations, why are they so big?”
However, most farms are actually just the right size.
Some farmers, those who grow herbs, for example, do well on a handful of acres or even a portion of an acre. The cost of production, size of the crop and price it brings all determine whether it is worthwhile.
Other farms, to reach a level of efficiency, must be large. A good example is a wheat farm. It requires tractors, planters, combines and an array of other equipment and implements. The farmer must then figure out the size that works best for the operation, considering the variable price of wheat, yields and many other factors.
In between are other farms, which grow everything from row crops to seed crops.
Again, the key is to make the farm the right size to maximize efficiency.
According to the USDA, 89 percent of all U.S. farms are small family farms. They occupy a little less than half of all the farmland and produce about 20 percent of the total crop value. About three percent of all family farms are large and grow 46 percent of the nation’s crops and livestock on about 25 percent of the ag land.
Only two percent of all farms are not family owned and operated. They exist on 10 percent of the agricultural land and produce 17 percent of the nation’s crops and livestock, according to USDA.
So, remember this the next time an alarmist screeches about family farms disappearing. They haven’t disappeared – they’re probably just out back working or at the kitchen table filling out paperwork.
This op-ed column was originally published in Capital Press on Dec. 22, 2022.