It’s the time of year that people reflect on what’s important, and what tops the list is family. It is also a time to be reflective and thankful for the abundance that we have. Did you know that family farms are the pillar of the agriculture industry? What is a family farm?
A “family farm” by definition 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.
Family farms produce food and fiber for people all over the world. There are five facts to know about U.S. family farms:
- Food equals family – 97% of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family owned.
- Eighty-eight percent of all U.S. farms are small family farms.
- Fifty-eight percent of all direct farm sales to consumers come from small family farms.
- Sixty-four percent of all vegetable sales and 66% of all dairy sales come from the three percent of farms that are large or very large family farms.
- Eighteen percent of the principal operators on family farms in the U.S. started within the last 10 years.
I was surprised to learn that 97% of all U.S. farms are family farms. The size of the farm is not classified the physical size, but is classified by the annual sales. The reasoning behind this calculation is that not all acreage is fertile, well-watered land. In Iowa, we are fortunate to have very fertile soil.
According to the USDA Census of Agriculture, the following states have the highest concentration of family farms are West Virginia, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Alabama. Approximately 95% of the farms in Iowa are family farms.
There may be larger farms and fewer of them than 50 or 100 years ago, but this information tells us that most farms are still family owned. With so much change in technology, it becomes even more important to be educated in all aspects of farming. Machinery on the farm is changing and becoming better every year. Because farmers can do so much more with better machinery, their yields are higher too. This knowledge of the land also allows farmers to take better care of the soil and water sources on their land. The average size of an Iowa farm is about 345 acres. Family farms need to be larger to generate income to support the number of families present at a farm. If there are four families in the business, there needs to profit enough to support four households. Farm work is really demanding work. There is no such thing as weekends off or sleeping in or taking time off to travel with friends. Farmers need to be present to take care of the animals and crops. Because the work on a farm is hard – there are a lot of young people deciding not to work on the farm. Those that do work on the farm have their heart in the business. With fewer people interested in farming – the work needs to be streamlined and efficient so that it can be completed by fewer hands. Lastly, farming is expensive. The farmland and machinery alone are costly, farmers must be totally invested physically and financially.
Farmers pay close attention to their land and often see it as a legacy to the next generation. The movie FARMLAND shared such insights and stated that family succession planning is vital to be able to transition farmland to the next generation. We are fortunate to have many Iowan farmers that see this legacy of farming and desire to share it with generations to come.
It’s amazing to think that Iowa ranks first in the United States in production of soybeans, corn, pork, and eggs. With the average 345 acre Iowa farm, this means that farmers care about the land and work hard to keep the land healthy and the legacy farming going. When you are out driving around, take time to see and enjoy the beautiful fields that Iowa has, as well as the family farms that care for farm animals across Iowa. In a time of Thanksgiving…it’s important for us to remember that Iowa is blessed and we are thankful!