Fewer Mid-Sized Farms in Operation

The Census of Agriculture provides statistical information that helps policymakers understand the agricultural landscape. Ultimately, it helps them design effective policy that responds to the challenges and opportunities identified. This is our second in a series of articles drilling down into the recently released 2012 Census of Agriculture’s preliminary report. Here we focus on mid-scale farms, as well as mid-age farms.

Looking at national numbers for Farms by Size, we lost a significant number of mid-size farms. Nationally, we lost a total of nearly 56,000 farms in the three size categories that make up the 50-999 acre farms. The 1,000 acres and up category grew by more than 400 farms.

chart of Principal Operators by Age Group, 2007 and 2012Another concern in the national data is the loss of farms for 35 to 54 year old operators. The group aged 35-44 lost over 54,000 farms. The 45-54 age range lost over 99,000 farms. The age categories from 55 to over 75 years grew by over 57,000 farms. Some mid-age range farmers graduated into the next higher age bracket. But we still lost over 96,000 farms in the 35-54 age categories.

Mid-size and middle-career farmers make an essential contribution to strong rural communities. They put kids in our rural schools and support rural small businesses. They are where we find our next generation of farmers who will live in and around our rural communities. They are absolutely critical to our rural future.

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack often speaks to the needs of rural people and communities. He suggests we must not lose such a way of life. He also refers to the fact that large farms are doing well, but farms in the middle are eroding.

We agree. Secretary Vilsack should know that the consolidation of agriculture and the loss of mid-scale farms are not inevitable. Federal policy – commodity and crop insurance policy specifically – play a significant role.

The 2014 Farm Bill put the ball in the administration’s court. They have a second chance to make real what then-Senator Obama pledged as part of his rural policy platform in 2008. He promised to close loopholes that allow mega farms to maximize their payments by limiting payments to active farmers who work the land.

We call on everyone – farmers, ranchers, and rural community members – to tell President Obama we need him to deliver on federal farm program reform and help strengthen rural opportunity. Action, more than prophesy, will build rural America’s future.

PS - And, by the way, here's an idea for USDA. We think you should increase your size category tracking in the census. We all know there are farms much larger than 1,000 acres.