Thursday, February 19, 2009

New Small Farms Spreading Across U.S.

  • Census-Farm Payment Issues; the Stimulus Bill; Food Safety; and Global Ag Issues, February 9, 2009
    Straight to the Source

Census-Farm Payment Issues

Andrew Martin reported in yesterday's New York Times that, "Ever thought of chucking it all and moving to the country? According to the Agriculture Department, an increasing number of Americans are doing just that, by embracing a 'Green Acres' lifestyle. But few of them are making a living at it:more often than not, their work in the fields is subsidized by an off-the-farm job." (See this related graph for all farms, and this related graph by farm typology).

"The Agriculture Department came out with its Census of Agriculturelast week, and the headline was that the number of farms increased by 4 percent from 2002 to 2007, with most of the new farms being small, part-time operations."

Mr. Martin added that, "A closer look at the numbers shows that American farming is becoming a story of extremes: of really big farms and really small ones. Consider that about 900,000 of the nation's 2.2 million farms generated $2,500 or less in sales in 2007.

"By contrast, 5 percent of total farms, about 125,000 operations, accounted for 75 percent of agricultural production."

"The new agriculture secretary, Tom Vilsack, has acknowledged the problem and vowed to do something about it. As a former governor of Iowa, he knows firsthand that farmers with a few hundred acres are being outbid for land by farmers with a few thousand. That consolidation is fueled by farm payments that tend to benefit the largest farms."

(Note: "Federal farm programs do not explicitly target payments to farms of a certain size or net income level, although caps may apply to the size of the program payment a farm or an individual farmer can receive. Nevertheless, large farms are more likely to receive farm program payments and, as a group, they receive the bulk of payments simply because most payments are paid per acre." (Robert Hoppe. "The Importance of Farm Program Payments to Farm Households."Amber Waves. June 2007)).

The Times article indicated that, "The question is: What, if anything, can he do about it?

"In an interview on Friday, Mr. Vilsack saidthe agency would encourage income opportunities— like energy production, carbon sequestration, conservation and ecotourism — that go beyond just crops and livestock. 'You have to take a holistic approach and create the understanding that the whole thing is diversification,' he said."

With respect to federal farm payments, an update posted on Fridayat the National Association of Wheat Growers homepage indicated that, "USDA released a more than 300-page guidance booklet to county Farm Service Agencies [FSA] late this week.

"The booklet is meant to clarify how new farm bill payment eligibility, payment limit and adjusted gross income rules will be implemented." The FSA guidance handbook is available by clicking here.

Keith Good
President, Inc.
Champaign, IL

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