Chew on this: Redefining the farm

January 24, 2008

Large family farms, defined as those with revenue of more than $250,000, account for nearly 60 percent of all agricultural production but just 7 percent of all farms. They receive more than 54 percent of government subsidies. And their share of federal payments is growing — more than doubling over the past decade for the biggest farms.

In 2003, the owners of the biggest family farms reported an average household income of $214,200, more than three times that of U.S. households on average.

The shift in subsidies to wealthier farmers is helping to fuel this consolidation of farmland. The largest farms’ share of agricultural production has climbed from 32 percent to 45 percent while the number for small and medium-size farms has tumbled from 42 percent to 27 percent.

Nationally, the average size of a farm has more than doubled in the past two decades, to 441 acres. Many farms now cover thousands of acres, some tens of thousands.

“Farming is a science now,” says one farmer. “The image of a farmer in bib overalls bumbling along is just wrong. I’m an engineer, for God’s sake.”



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