Most agricultural operations with 10 acres or less do not produce much or earn much income, but some do quite well, according to a recent report from USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS). The way to generate income on small acreage, based on the report, is to produce either high-value specialty products or to engage in an intensive production system relying largely on inputs produced elsewhere.

About 13 percent U.S. farms operated on 10 acres or less in 2007, according to the report, titled “Working the Land With 10 Acres: Small Acreage Farming in the United States.”  Most generated little farm income, but 17 percent had gross annual sales of at least $10,000. Over 30,000 small-acreage farms generated gross sales between $10,000 and $500,000 and 6,000 had sales of at least $250,000 annually and 3,600 had annual sales of at least $500,000.

Most of small-acreage high-return farms at the highest income levels specialize in intensive production of livestock, such as confined pork or poultry, and to a lesser extent cattle feeding, which require relatively small acreage for the actual housing facilities. However, the 46,000 farms with sales between $10,000 and $500,000 in 2007 focused primarily on high-value crops such as floriculture, tree nurseries, orchards, vegetables and mushrooms.

Not surprisingly, cattle ranching and farming, which typically requires significant acreage, did not generate large incomes for small-acreage farmers. Nearly a quarter – about 23 percent – of small acreage farmers reported they engaged in cattle ranching and farming, but those activities accounted for only about 10 percent of farm sales from operations with 10 acres or less.

View the full report from USDA/ERS.