Defining Terms like "Small Farm", "Industrial Farm" and More

There are many terms that describe a farm, and for the most part they are based on income. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, there are the types of farms in the U.S. that can be grouped into two categories:

Small Family Farms (sales less than $250,000)

  • Residential/lifestyle farms – Small farms whose operators report a major occupation other than farming (excludes limited resource farms).
  • Limited-resource farms – Any small farm with gross sales less than $100,000, total farm assets less than $150,000 and total operator household income less than $20,000.
  • Farming occupation/lower-sales farms – Small farms with sales less than $100,000 whose operators report farming as their major occupation (excludes limited-resource farms whose operators report farming as their major occupation).
  • Farming occupation/higher-sales farms – Small farms with sales between $100,000 and $249,000 whose operators report farming as their major occupation.

Other Farms

  • Large family farms – Farms with sales between $250,000 and $499,999.
  • Very large family farms – Farms with sales of $500,000 or more.
  • Non-family farms – Farms organized as non-family corporations or cooperatives, as well as farms operated by hired managers.

According to the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture, 97 percent of farms are family farms. There are other terms such as “industrial farm” or “factory farm” that are more ambiguous. Generally these two terms are referring to farms or ranches where animals are raised. Farmers take pride in the food that is grown and raised on their farm or ranch, but unfortunately a few bad actors with unethical practices have created misconceptions about the conditions in which animals are raised. Farmers and ranchers are eager to share stories and examples regarding the extreme efforts they put forth to ensure their animals are well cared for throughout their lives on the farm or ranch.

Many consumers use these two terms interchangeably, referring to large farms that produce a significant amount of food, and animals raised in barns or buildings rather than outside. There are many reasons why farmers choose to use the practices they do. Farmers strive for best practice management of their animals including the well-being and safety of each animal. More information about Animal Welfare.