Friday, February 16, 2024

The number of U.S. farms has shrunk to the smallest level since 1850; many of the remaining farmers are over 65

Treehugger photo by Dan Amos via SF
The decreasing number of U.S. farms and the increasing age of the country's farmers are concerning factors for a country considered an agricultural powerhouse. U.S. farmers feed America and their exports support the country's trade surpluses with other nations. "The United States has the smallest number of farms — 1.9 million — since 1850, when there were only 31 states and four territories, said the USDA Census of Agriculture," reports Chuck Abbott of Successful Farming. "Nearly four of every 10 farmers were over 65 in 2022, when the data was collected, an abrupt surge from the 2017 census, when one in three farmers was retirement age."

During the Great Depression, there were 6.8 million farms, but "mechanization, hybrid seeds, synthetic fertilizers, and pesticides allowed vast increases in productivity while reducing the need for labor," Abbott explains. "Farm output is so large that one-fifth of production is exported."

While many Americans may think that farm families simply pass down land to their progeny, that is more a myth than a reality. As it becomes harder for farmers to turn a profit due to regulations, labor shortages and extreme weather, fewer of the next generation view farming as a viable profession. Abbott reports, "'The number of producers [age] 65 and over increased 12%, continuing the trend of an aging producer population,' said a highlight sheet for the census, describing changes since 2017. There was a 9 percent decline in the number of farmers aged 35-65 years."

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Abbott: "The hope would be that we would continue to encourage people to get in and remain in the farming business and that we would be able to preserve our farmland. But survey after survey continues to show a decline in the number of farms and farmland." 

The Census of Agriculture is available here.
A USDA chart of farm numbers over the years is available here.

No comments: