Iowa Public Television


Fewer, Larger Farms Make up America's Agriculture

posted on February 6, 2004

Republicans say they'll try and jump-start a massive energy bill by attaching it to a transportation measure now before the U.S. Senate. The $31 billion energy bill stalled late last year, largely over a controversial provision that banned lawsuits against manufacturers of MTBE. Critics say MTBE, which is a gasoline additive, has polluted groundwater in several states.

Now it appears the MTBE provision will be dropped, which may be an important move for ethanol producers. That's because the energy bill calls for ethanol production to double by 2010.

Just who will be around to produce the corn that's needed to make ethanol is an open question. Government numbers reveal, to no one's surprise, that fewer producers are farming more acres.

Fewer, Larger Farms Make up America's Agriculture Since 1969, the census of agriculture has been conducted every five years. According to the latest survey, there are fewer, larger farms in the United States than the last study revealed in 1997. Currently 2.12 million farms dot the American landscape, down from 2.21 million farms in 1997, a decline of almost four percent. Meanwhile, America's farmers are getting older, becoming increasingly more diverse and working more acres.

Currently, there are approximately 939.5 million acres devoted to farming, a decline of 15.3 million acres since 1997. Since then, the number of acres a farmer works has grown from an average of 431 acres to 441 acres. The average age of farmers also has increased, from 54 years in 1997 to 55 years in 2002.

The census reports there are 3.11 million farmers nationwide. Among them, black, American Indian, Hispanic and women operators all are significant contributors to agriculture, with their numbers steadily increasing from 1997.

For the first time, the study also examined how many households each farm supported. The numbers reveal the majority of U.S. farms supported only one household. An additional 314,043 farms supported two households.

For survey purposes, a farm is defined as any place where 1,000 dollars or more of agricultural products were produced or sold.

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