We Americans are used to seeing larger businesses outperform and consume smaller businesses. That trend is apparent in the agriculture industry, where four corporations control 80% of all meat processing and a just a few control control nearly all the seeds sold for crops.
Therefore, USDA’s report released last week, Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming, should come as no surprise. Its authors report that a large cattle feedlot firm has a capacity of 520,000 head, an Oregon dairy farm has a milking herd of 16,000 head, a Florida firm farms over 180,000 acres of sugar cane and a California firm farms 150,000 acres, primarily of cotton and tomatoes. In just 10 years (2001 – 2011), the number of farms with at least 10,000 acres increased from 409 to 1,140. As a result, just 2% of the farms have over 34% of all cropland and half of all farms have
In her recent blog, Farms are gigantic now, even the “family” owned ones, Lydia DePillis reports that the idyllic diversified “family” farms of the 19th century appear to have all but disappeared. In fact, the farm size most impacted by specialization and high tech has been the mid-sized farms (100 – 500 acres), which were always the most diversified and stable farms up until the last 50 years.
The USDA has not provided its 2011 farm size data by state. The most recent published ag data with state farm size information is from the 2007 census. Surprising, Maryland farms over 1,000 acres in size actually declined slightly in 2007, the number of farms 100 to 500 acres in size actually increased slightly and the number of farms under 100 acres increased by 617, when compared with 2002 ag census data.
We are anxiously awaiting the results of the 2012 ag census to see whether Maryland farms have succumbed to the national trend or are successfully adapting to locally sourced foods trends and holding their own.