Home Money Matters Diverse Family Farms Are Important To Us All

Diverse Family Farms Are Important To Us All


This article comes to us from Bob Hoppe of the USDA Economic Research Service. It was originally published to announce the findings of the 2016 edition of the report on America’s Diverse Family Farms. The data he provides are still relevant. I’ve updated it with the most recent report link.

Family farms remain an essential feature of agriculture and rural communities in the United States. Family farms make up 99 percent of America’s 2.1 million farms and 89 percent of agricultural production. Most farms in the United States are small: 90 percent are small family farms that operate nearly half of America’s farmland.

However, farms vary widely in size and other characteristics. U.S. farms range from very small retirement and residential farms to businesses with sales in the millions of dollars.


To give us a better look at the U.S. farm sector, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) released America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2017 Edition. The report categorizes farms into groupings based on several factors:  the annual revenue of the farm, the primary occupation of the principal operator, and ownership of the farm – family or nonfamily. Annual revenue is measured by gross cash farm income (GCFI), the sum of the farm’s crop and livestock sales, Government payments, and other farm-related income, including production contract fees.

While only 24 percent of the Nation’s agricultural production was attributed to small family farms in 2015, they produced more of two commodities than midsize or large-scale family farms: poultry and eggs (57 percent)—mostly under production contracts—and hay (52 percent).

Together, midsize and large-scale family farms accounted for 65 percent of total U.S. agricultural production, but only 9 percent of farms.  Non-family farms (1 percent of farms) account for the remaining production (11 percent).

Since 1991, agricultural production has shifted to million-dollar farms—those with GCFI of $1 million or more, measured in 2015 dollars—including both family and nonfamily farms. In fact, million-dollar farms now account for half of all U.S. farm production, up from a third in 1991. When you think of farms that large, you may not think of family farms. However, most million-dollar farms (90 percent) are family farms. Only 3 percent are nonfamily corporations, most of which (80 percent) report no more than 10 shareholders.

In short, small family farms dominate the farm count in the United States, while midsize and large-scale family farms dominate production.  America’s Diverse Family Farms reveals that family farms are still central to our agricultural economy.

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Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.