USFRA's View on Farm Size

In order for agriculture to provide healthy choices for all Americans, as well as people around the world, we need all types of farms and ranches – big and small, organic and conventional, rural and urban. Only when farmers and ranchers collectively respond to the marketplace, sharing best practices and providing a range of choices, can we meet the desires, as well as the needs of a growing population.

USFRA affiliate members represent farms and ranches of all sizes and production models. We welcome diversity and believe that only through sharing and dialogue can American agriculture – and its consumers – thrive. Our values reflect this philosophy.

A vast majority of farms and ranches across the country – large and small – are family-owned and operated. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) 2012 Census of Agriculture, 97 percent of farms are family farms. The Atlantic reported that for farms with $1 million or more in gross revenues, 88 percent are family farms.  Based on research from an Ag economist at the University of Illinois Extension, the estimated cost to raise a corn crop in 2011 was $832 per acre. That number includes land costs, labor, crop protection, fertilizer and seed. Some input costs have risen sharply since that time while others moderate.  

Farmers and ranchers, like other business owners, invest much of their profits back into equipment costs and upgraded technologies, or land and livestock. They are part of an ever-changing and innovative industry that has shown an ongoing ability to continuously improve in efficiency while also seeking to be increasingly sustainable Reinvesting helps them stay competitive and meet regulations, while also planning for difficult and uncontrollable circumstances. 

Farmers and ranchers depend on local businesses. They need veterinarians, suppliers, local agribusinesses, and others in order to do their work. Geographic areas of concentrated agriculture adds to the overall infrastructure that makes it profitable for supporting industries in similar businesses to stay in the area.  Both larger and smaller farms help support the local economy, by helping them maintain business outlets for their local needs.

According to the USDA Census of Agriculture in 2012, there are approximately 2.1 million farms in America, down from approximately 2.5 million in 1982. Over the past century, a massive reduction in U.S. farms occurred for multiple reasons.  The availability of non-farm jobs drew more people to cities, in some cases to less labor intensive opportunities. . Advances in agricultural mechanization made it possible for farmers and ranchers to take on more land and an increased number of livestock.  Urban sprawl also began to eliminate quality farmland nearest expanding population centers. In most cases, fewer farms reflect growing productivity and innovation – today’s farmers and ranchers do more with fewer resources. This helps make food more affordable and has allowed our society to flourish because so many people can pursue other vocations and pursuits beyond farming.

Today, there is a growing interest in farming and ranching from many new faces, driving the growing urban, and local food movements. This creates diversity and new thinking to agriculture, while also bringing more people closer to the land by re-connecting them with where their food comes from. As referenced by the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture, the average age of a farmer is 58 years old. The younger generation of farmers and ranchers play a crucial role in the continuous improvement aspect of producing food, and nearly as significantly bring an inherent ability and desire to communicate with consumers about how they grow and raise food

Farms and ranches in America are a major driver of economic output. According to the USDA Census of Agriculture in 2012, U.S. farms sold close to $395 billion in agricultural products. Crops account for 54 percent of these sales. In 2013 agriculture and agriculture-related industries contributed close to $789 billion, or a 4.7 percent share of the U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), according to the USDA. In comparison, the automotive industry contributes 3 to 3.5 percent to the overall GDP, historically.  

In addition, U.S. farms create one of the few industries in America with major exports to other countries, accounting for $137.4 billion in farm goods in 2011. The direct and indirect economic activity by farm exports supported 907,000 jobs in 2010.