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The Future of Small Family Farms

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Published on May 3, 2012

Farmer Rick Steffen, and culinary instructor Katherine Deumling share their views about the future of small family farms.

According to the most current USDA census data (2007), and the recently published survey data from the Economic Research Service (ERS) for 2010, small commercial farms (those generating revenues between $100,000-$250,000) have declined only slightly from 2007-2010. In 2007, small farms in this particular sales class numbered 147,751 versus 146,788 in 2010, a drop of less than .7%.

From 2002 to 2007, the drop was much steeper, a net decline of about -7%. Considering the general state of the economy in 2008-2009, these recent numbers may be seen as a positive indicator of somewhat improved stability in this group.

All categories of large farms (family farms, partnerships, and corporations), those with revenues of $500,000 and greater, grew in number by 60% from 2002-2007. The only other farm category to grow significantly over this same period, indeed showed any signs of growth in number, were the extremely small farms, those with revenues less than $1000.

The vast majority of US farms (roughly 90%), are classified as small farms, as defined as generating up to $250,000 in annual revenue. According to the 2007 USDA census data, "Operators of farms with value of sales between $100,000 and $249,999 are younger than average and are more likely to be full time farmers. Operators of farms with sales of less than $10,000 typically work off farm."

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