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Number of U.S. farms down 3% in five years

Based on a midyear survey, the USDA estimates there were 2.023 million farms in the nation in 2019, a tiny decline of 5,800 farms from the previous year. The change is more dramatic when the time frame is widened — there are 3% fewer farms now than there were in 2014, and the amount of farmland, 897.4 million acres, or 1.4 million square miles, fell by 1.3% during that five-year period.

The USDA says that five-year period saw an increase of 400 farms in the middle of its six-tier typology, for a total of 224,000 farms with sales of $100,000 to $500,000 a year. During the same period, the number of both small and larger farms declined. Since 1974, a farm has been defined as a place that produces crops or livestock worth at least $1,000 in sales, even if it doesn’t market them.

While a quarter of U.S. farmland is operated by the 4% of farms with more than $1 million a year in sales, half of U.S. farms sell less than $10,000 a year in products. Further, half of those small farms are so-called point farms that don’t report annual sales exceeding $1,000. The smallest U.S. farms are an average of 81 acres, while the largest farms, those with more than $1 million in sales, average 2,910 acres.

Farm numbers peaked at 6.8 million in 1935 during the Depression. Numbers declined sharply for the next four decades as mechanization, hybrid seeds, and the introduction of synthetic pesticides and fertilizers allowed farmers to operate more land with less manual help. Since the mid-1970s and 1980s, the number of farms, though trending downward, has been fairly steady.

To read the USDA’s “Farms and Land in Farms” report, click here.

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