Current Small Farm Market Research: United States

Goals

To have a broad understanding of the current small farm market in the United States. An ideal response would include the total number of farms, how many are concentrated into mega/corporate farms (like Monsanto), and how many farms are individually owned. Separately and additionally, to understand the grant and loan availability to small farms. An ideal response here would include the size of the current grant landscape for agriculture/farming as well as the size of the loan landscape. Once that is determined, to understand how much of those grants and loans go to the larger mega farms versus smaller farms. Finally, to have an understanding of how and where small farms access capital today, and to have an understanding of whether there is room for growth in this area.

Early Findings

  • In 2019, there were just over two million farms in the United States. That number represents a drop from 2007 when there were a reported 2.2 million farms in America. [There were 7 million farms in the United States in 1935].
  • It is of note that as the number of farms in the United States decreases, the size of them increase. When digging into state data, the largest state in the United States (Texas) happens to have the highest number of farms, at 248,000 in 2018.
  • Farmers and ranchers themselves make up just 1.3% of the employed US population, totaling around 2.6 million people.
  • Most farms are small, but most production is on large farms. Family farms (where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator) of various types together accounted for nearly 98% of U.S. farms in 2018. Small family farms (less than $350,000 in GCFI) accounted for 90% of all U.S. farms. Large-scale family farms ($1 million or more in GCFI) accounted for about 3% of farms but 46% of the value of production.
  • Ninety-seven percent of U.S. farms are family-owned, according to the most recent Agricultural Census.
  • Even big farms are usually family-owned. Of farms with gross annual sales of $1 million or more, 94% are family farms. Of farms with 10,000 acres or more, 86% are family businesses.
  • Even mega-farms aren’t being run by "faceless corporate elites."
  • "...[f]arms now operate like small businesses that must borrow capital and use the latest technologies and farming practices to maximize efficiencies and offset stagnant commodity prices. But being an efficient small business doesn’t mean you are a corporate farm."
  • "Approximately 17% of U.S. farms (346,489 farms) are considered “retirement farms” — that is, their operators are officially retired but still grow a little bit on a small scale."
  • "868,523 farms, or 42% of America’s farms, are run by people with off-farm jobs."
  • Although limited, financial support for small farms and farm-related businesses is available from a variety of Federal, state and local agencies and from non-governmental organizations. Current guides to grants and loans for American farmers can be accessed here.
  • The charts in this source provide a quick guide to federal farm and food-related programs and grants, organized by issue and by who is eligible to apply or sign up.
  • This Atlantic source is paywalled, so we do not have access. [Wonder only uses publicly available sources to answer all research questions] However, in case it is of interest, we have provided a link here.

Summary Of Our Early Findings Relevant To The Goals

  • As we only have one hour in the initial research phase, some of what was asked for could not be provided. However, we were able to answer the first few questions surrounding the total number of farms, how many are concentrated into mega/corporate farms, and how many farms are individually owned. We were also able to give some links to federal farm and food-related programs and grants, organized by issue and by who is eligible to apply or sign up. This sets the table for future research.
  • Please select one or more of the options provided in the proposed scoping section below.

Proposed next steps:

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