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Why are the number of farms in the US decreasing?

February 21, 2024

It’s been a busy few weeks for industry news, thanks to new official data. Agriculture Dive reports that “The U.S. had 1.9 million farms and ranches in 2022, a 6.9% decline from 2017, according to data from the Department of Agriculture’s census report released Tuesday.”

Why is this happening? A number of reasons. The average age of farmers has risen to 58.1 years old, and 12% of producers are over 65, with many retiring each year. Technological advances allow farming corporations to do more with less land, and consolidation by the biggest companies pushes small producers out of markets.

“The largest producers, considered those with sales of $5 million or more, made up 42% of all sales despite accounting for less than 1% of all farms.”

This news comes on the back of the USDA’s 2024 Farm Sector Income Forecast which predicts that “In inflation-adjusted 2024 dollars, net farm income is forecast to decrease by $43.1 billion (27.1 percent) from 2023 to 2024…” as a result of lower prices and a decrease in direct Government farm payments.

In fact, as you may have heard, the current Farm Bill being considered by Congress has been stuck in negotiations ever since last year’s bill failed to pass.

There’s an excellent article published in Forbes earlier this month: “Why Your Groceries Are Still So Expensive.” In it, author Errol Schweizer explores why “prices are up nearly 30% since 2019, while unit volumes are flat.”

In the article, Schweizer documents numerous examples of “shrinkflation” or “greedflation”, where food companies that dominate their sectors have raised costs dramatically beyond their own expenses to create record profits. This has harmed consumers, but the knock-on effect of tighter consumer budgets means that farmers’ sales are impacted too.

There are plenty of reasons to be hopeful for the prospects of sustainable agriculture in the US. Technological advancement and young energy is fueling a continued wave of interest. The DOA census reveals that the number of beginning farmers and young producers under 35 has increased.

But this energy and technological development does not happen in a vacuum. Farmers need to be aware of larger trends and social issues, and CEA farmers need to continue advocating for themselves and the industry. We must be our own biggest cheerleaders.

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