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Fewer and Larger Farms Produce Most farm Output

March 29, 2018

The US has a stable 2.1 million farms, defined as places that sell $1,000 worth of farm commodities a year. However, most farm commodities are produced by less than 75,000 farms, under four percent of the total. With most farm output from a relative handful of large farms amidst millions of hobby and retirement farms, averages can be misleading as an indicator of US agriculture.

There are several measures of farm size, including Gross Cash Farm Income and the Market Value of Agricultural Products Sold. In 2015, the 65,300 farms that each had Gross Farm Cash Income of $1 million or more accounted for over half of cash farm income, while the half of farms that each had less than $10,000 in sales accounted for less than one percent of gross cash income. The median gross cash income was $11,000, demonstrating that most farms have very low sales.

Fewer than 5,000 farms had gross cash income of $10 million or more. Of those that did, a third were fruit and nut, vegetable and melon, or horticultural specialty (FVH) crop farms, a quarter were dairies, and eighth were cattle feed lots, that is, almost 70 percent of farms with gross cash income of $10 million or more were FVH farms, dairies, or feed lots.

Another definition of very large farm is sales of $5 million or more in 2015. FVH commodities were 16 percent of total farm sales in 2015, but FVH farms with sales of $5 million or more in 2015 accounted for 48 percent of total FVH sales; a third of all farms with sales of $5 million or more were FVH farms. Similarly, 45 percent of milk was from dairies with $5 million or more in sales. By contrast, 46 percent of hogs and poultry sales were from farms with less than $350,000 in sales in 2015.

Most farms are family farms, but most of the labor on the large farms that produce most farm output is hired. On the 7,400 farms with 2015 Gross Cash Farm Income of $5 million or more, hired and contract labor provided 92 percent of the mean 111,000 hours worked.

MacDonald, James, Robert Hoppe, and Doris Newton. 2018. Three Decades of Consolidation in US Agriculture, USDA, ERS, EIB-189.

U.S. Farms and Production by GCFI class, 2015