Thursday, February 05, 2009

Census of Agriculture finds more, smaller farms; 30 percent increase in female farmers in 5 years

A lot gets written about large-scale farming operations becoming more common, but the latest Census of Agriculture says that not only are the number of farms rising, but they're getting smaller. The years between 2002 and 2007 have seen the start of 300,000 new farms, pushing the number just above 2.2 million. The increase is the first in 60 years of the quintennial counts, notes Jeff Caldwell of Agriculture Online.

"60 percent of all farms report less than $10,000 in sales of agricultural products," writes Tom Steever for Brownfield Ag News, and "of the 2.2 million farms nationwide, only 1 million show positive net cash income from the farm operation." The census also found that farmers are getting older, the average age rising from 55.3 to 57.1, with farmers retiring later or continuing to work on a part-time basis. (Read more)

Caldwell quotes Stu Ellis of University of Illinois Extension: "One of the most significant changes ... is the increase in female farm operators, both in terms of the absolute number and the percentage of all principal operators. There were 306,209 female principal operators counted in 2007, up from 237,819 in 2002 -- an increase of almost 30 percent." For Caldwell's detailed story, click here.

In Iowa, the census suggests that small farm operations in Iowa are on the rise but the data also shows that in Iowa and nationwide the majority of food is coming from large farms. "The number of farms reporting sales of $10,000 or less was up significantly, although the biggest increase was in farms with less than $1,000 in sales, according to the count released Wednesday," reports Philip Brasher of The Des Moines Register.

What may be a real concern is the shrinking number of middle sized farms over the last five years. 23,698 farms in Iowa counted in 2007 reported sales of $1,000 or less. That is up from 19,668 in 2002. But over the same time period the number of farms earning at least $1 million in sales increased to 4,213 in 2007 up from 1,518 in 2002. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, while saying he was encouraged by the growth of small farms, voiced concern that middle-sized farms continue to disappear. Vilsack said, "The health of rural communities depends on us maintaining those small and mid-sized farms." (Read more)

No comments: