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Non-family farms take larger share of U.S. land and production

There are more and more non-family farms, and they account for a growing share of agricultural production.

America may still be a land of family farms – 96% of the 2 million farms in the country are owned by families, according to a new USDA report on farm types. Yet there are more and more non-family farms, and they account for a growing share of agricultural production.

The 82,885 non-family farms operate roughly 1 of every 8 acres of U.S. farmland and generate nearly $1 of every $5 in crop and livestock sales, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture. The census was conducted in 2017; the USDA released its Typology report on Friday. The 2012 Census counted 70,210 non-family farms, operating 1 in 9 acres of farmland and accounting for 16% of agricultural sales.

In the same five-year period, the number of family farms dropped 4%, continuing a decline that began decades ago. Sales revenue also fell 3.5%, a reflection of the collapse in 2013 of the commodity boom.

By contrast, the number of non-family farms grew 18% and sales increased 13%, to $70.4 billion, between 2012 and 2017. The amount of land farmed by the operations expanded 8%, to 116 million acres. There are 900 million acres of land in farms.

Sales of cattle, hogs, milk, and poultry from non-family farms ballooned by 14% during the four-year period. There were 5,000 more cattle, hog, and poultry farms in 2017 than in 2012. But there were also 1,200 more non-family fruit, vegetable, and nut farms in 2017, and 5,000 more grain farms. The USDA says a non-family farm is “any farm where the producer and persons related to the producer do not own a majority of the business.”

The USDA report did not suggest the reasons behind the expansion or contraction of various types of farms. Its two pages of highlights focused on family farms, increasingly divided between small farms and very large farms: 8% of family farms — midsize and large-scale farms — account for 63% of all agricultural products. The vast majority of U.S. farms, 1.8 million in all, are small operations that hold 46% of total farmland and are the source of 19% of agricultural sales. The USDA counts as a farm any place that produces and sells at least $1,000 in agricultural goods in a year, or that typically would meet that threshold.

To read the two-page Highlights, click here.

The USDA Typology report is available here.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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