Friday, May 09, 2014

Most farmers don't make a living by farming; you probably knew that, but here are the latest figures

The recently released Census of Agriculture had plenty of data, such as the fact that the U.S. had 2,109,303 farmers in 2012. "But look a little closer at that number, and you can see that it's not quite what it seems," Dan Charles reports for NPR. "Most of those farmers are not actually making a living by farming," but work small farms because it's what they love to do. (Charles photo: Part-time farmer Bill Miller)

"More than half of all farmers say it's not their primary occupation. Also, two-thirds of all farms sell less than $25,000 worth of crops or livestock each year. That's not profit — that's total sales," Charles reports. "There are just 80,000 farms with sales of over $1 million a year. They represent just 4 percent of the total farm population. But those few big farms account for two-thirds of all agricultural production in the country."

That means that the 96 percent of farmers who account for just one-third of U.S. agricultural production are people like Bill Miller, who works full-time for a chemical plant, but rents land where he grazes cattle. Miller, whose parents sold the cattle ranch where he grew up, told Charles, "It's just something you love to do, you know. Born and raised with cows. Just enjoy being around them, messing with them. Basically, it just gets in your blood. It's what you love doing. There's nothing like seeing a brand new calf, the first time trying to get up and walk, you know?"

Part-time farmers "may be semi-retired, or they inherited farmland and want to keep it in the family, but they don't want to farm full time," Charles writes. "Some are raising vegetables for farmers' markets. Others have orchards. But the biggest single group is made up of people like Miller, who raise cattle. It's often the easiest way to farm part time. Cattle don't take a lot of expensive equipment or a huge amount of labor. As a result, the average cattle herd in the country is just 40 animals." And some of these part-time farmers would love to do it full time, but it doesn't bring in enough income to pay the bills. (Read more)

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