Family farms

By Charlyn Fargo

Don’t worry, the family farm is still green and growing. Some 97 percent of all U.S. farms are family-owned, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Family-owned farms remain the backbone of the agriculture industry.

In Illinois, there are more than 74,000 farms, covering nearly 27 million acres of land. Currently the state’s food and fiber industry employs nearly one million people.

The theme for this year’s National Ag Day, held March 18, was “Sustaining Future Generations.” Acting State Agriculture Director Philip Nelson says it’s a fitting theme for this National Ag Day.

“It means ensuring young adults who want to return to the farm, or a career in agriculture, have this opportunity,” said Nelson. “There are dozens of ag-related career paths out there, from farm production to landscape architecture, banking and marketing to urban planning and food science.”

How is a family farm defined?

By definition, a family farm is any farm where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator, including through blood, marriage or adoption.

“As we wrap up mining the 6 million data points from the latest Census of Agriculture, we used typology to further explore the demographics of who is farming and ranching today,” said Hubert Hamer, NASS Statistics Division Director. “What we found is that family-owned businesses, while very diverse, are at the core of the U.S. agriculture industry.”

The 2012 Census of Agriculture Farm Typology is a special data series that primarily focuses on the “family farm.”

Key highlights from the report include five facts about U.S. family farms:

1. Food equals family – 97 percent of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family-owned operations.

2. Small business matters – 88 percent of all U.S. farms are small family farms.

3. Local connections come in small packages – 58 percent of all direct farm sales to consumers come from small family farms.

4. Big business matters too – 64 percent of all vegetable sales and 66 percent of all dairy sales come from the 3 percent of farms that are large or very large family farms.

5. Farming provides new beginnings – 18 percent of principal operators on family farms in the U.S. started within the last 10 years.

“Whether small or large – on the East Coast, West Coast, or the Midwest – family farms produce food and fiber for people all across the U.S. and the world,” said Hamer. “It’s due in part to information such as this from the Census of Agriculture that we can help show the uniqueness and importance of U.S. agriculture to rural communities, families and the world.”

The 2012 Census of Agriculture Farm Typology report classifies all farms into unique categories based on three criteria: who owns the operation, whether farming is the principal operator’s primary occupation and gross cash farm cash income (GCFI). Small family farms have GCFI less than $350,000; midsize family farms have GCFI from $350,000 to $999,999; and large family farms have GCFI of $1 million or more. Small farms are further divided based on whether the principal operator works primarily on or off the farm.

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About the author

Charlyn Fargo spent 27 years at the State Journal-Register covering agriculture, business and food. She currently is the Bureau Chief of County Fairs & Horse Racing with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. She is also a Registered Dietitian and writes a weekly syndicated nutrition column for Creator’s News Service (www.creators.com) and is co-owner of Simply Fair, a fair trade boutique at 2357 W. Monroe in Springfield. She has bachelor’s degrees in agricultural communications and food from the University of Illinois, Champaign and a master’s degree in nutrition from Eastern Illinois University. She and her husband, Brad Ware, have a daughter, Kate, and son, Jayden. When she’s not working or writing, she enjoys baking cookies for Simply From Scratch, a company she formed to support faith-based ministries.

View all articles by Charlyn Fargo

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