Number of U.S. farm operations continues to decline

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The number of U.S. farms and acreage in farmland continued to decline in 2012, although larger operations grew in number and acreage according to an annual report from the USDA. The number of beef-cow operations, listed at 729,000, was down by 1 percent, and dairy, swine, sheep and goat operations also declined somewhat.

The report shows a small decline in beef-cow operations in every size group except the largest – those with 5,000 cows or more – which remained at a total of 50, the same as in 2011. Beef-cow operations with 1,000 or more cows, which total 1,370 operations, account for just 7.7 percent of the total beef-cow inventory. Those with one to 49 cows account for 27.7 percent, 50 to 99 cows account for 34 percent, 100 to 499 account for 38.4 percent and 500 to 999 account for 9 percent.

Among all cattle and calf operations, which includes stocker and feeding operations, those with 1,000 head or more account for 35.2 percent of the total, up slightly from 35 percent in 2011.

The report breaks down farm numbers by economic class based on value of farm sales, and those in the

$500,000 and over sales class increased by 8.6 percent in 2012, in part due to higher commodity prices.

Those in the $1,000 to $9,999 sales class decreased by 2.5 percent while those in the $10,000 to $99,999 sales class increased slightly. The number of farms in the $100,000 to $249,999 and $250,000 to $499,999 sales classes increased 1.9 and 1.1 percent, respectively.

Nationally, the average farm size is 421 acres, up one acre from the previous year. The states with the largest average farm size are Wyoming at 2,796 acres, Montana at 2,056, Nevada at 1,980 and New Mexico at 1,845 acres.

Not surprisingly, small Eastern states tend to have the smallest farms. Farms in Rhode Island average 57 acres while those in Massachusetts, New Jersey and Connecticut average 68, 72 and 82 acres respectively.

The total number of farms in the United States, at 2,170,000, has increased over the past decade, from a total of 2,126,860 in 2003. Acreage in farmland however, has declined in every year since 2003, dropping from 936,750,000 in 2003 to 914,000 in 2012.

View the full Farms, Land in Farms and Livestock Operations report online from USDA.

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Texas  |  February, 20, 2013 at 09:39 AM

Is there a math error here, or did I miss something? Herds with 1-49 head = 27.7 % of inventory herds w/ 50-99 = 34 % herds w/ 100-499 = 38.4 % herds w/ 500-999 = 9 % herds w/ 1000 + head = 7.7 % Doesn't that add up to 116.8 % of inventory?

TX  |  February, 20, 2013 at 03:20 PM

There is a math error somewhere, kind of makes you wonder doesn't it!

WA  |  February, 21, 2013 at 06:30 AM

Sad for those of us who want to return to farming, especially those of us who are disabled vets, and are having a hard time getting access/opportunity to do so.

SD  |  February, 21, 2013 at 01:26 PM

It seems surprising anyone is having difficulty getting " access/opportunity" because USDA is actively recruiting (ads on radio and maybe more places, urging "minority" people by many criteria, to come see them for help) people wanting to get started......unless they have family engaged in farming, or want to begin "on their own" instead of working into a family operation. Besides USDA, many "shadow govt'. groups", such as the various "Rural Action Groups", and others with strong Democrat ties have articles in papers promoting 'beginning farmers' apparently of any age and level of experience, on no experience at all. Looks as if one nearly needs to prove to USDA that they have little chance of success in order to qualify for 'assistance' from USDA.

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