Data reveals "mid-size" farms are disappearing

Published online: Sep 15, 2013
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Data shows the average farm size has remained steady over the last 30 years, however, a closer look shows fewer "average" farms and considerably more large and small farms.

The Agricultural Resource Management Survey, USDA's primary source of farm financial information shows in a 2011 survey of 1.68 million farms the average farm was 234 acres. More analysis reveals four out of five farms are smaller than the average, and the median farm size, the farm smaller than half and larger than half of the 1.68 million farms, was just 45 acres.

A recent article from the USDA's Economic Research Service says the data is skewed by the growing trend of few farms working more acres. This has increased over the past 30 years with advancements in technology and farm organization.

More efficient equipment, precision farming, genetically engineered seeds and a more prominent role for GPS systems have allowed farms to manage larger farms in the same amount of time, and lower their average cost per acre through a better economy of scale.

From the chart below, the majority of the farms are between 10 and 49 acres, but the majority of the cropland is owned by farms with more than 2,000 acres.

With consolidation and fewer farms owning more cropland, ERS calculations show the midpoint of cropland, the point where half of the acreage is on larger farms and half was on smaller farms, was a farm with 1,100 acres. That average has more than doubled since 1982 when the midpoint acreage for U.S. crop farms was 589 acres.

The shift to larger farms shifted mostly in the 20 years between 1987 and 2007. The midpoint for corn acres tripled in that time from 200 to 600 acres. The shift upward could be in farms purchasing more land, or transitioning land from other crops to corn to take advantage of higher prices as the crop could be used as feed or shipped to ethanol plants.

Among other crops, the midpoint for soybean cropland also increased from 243 acres for the average enterprise in 1987 to 490 acres in 2007.