Farm Numbers, Farmed Acres Decline

The number of US farms continues to decline as small operations are eaten by larger, but the amount of land being farmed also is declining, a USDA survey showed.

The USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, in its Farms and Land in Farms Summary 2015, estimated the number of US farms last year at 2.07 million, down 18,000 from 2014.

Total land in farms, at 912 million acres, decreased 1 million from 2014.  The average farm size was 441 acres, up 3 from the previous year.

That continued a long-term trend of larger, fewer farms.




Farm numbers and land in farms were differentiated by six sales classes.  Sales class breaks were made at $10,000, $100,000, $250,000, $500,000 and $1,000,000.  NASS found that production or commodity price changes in 2014 resulted in gains in the total value of most livestock and livestock products while the value of most crops declined.

“Point Farms” are farms that did not have the required minimum $1,000 in actual sales for the year to qualify as a farm, but had sufficient crops and livestock that could have been sold for $1,000 or more.  A total of 428,810 farms, or 20.3%, of the 2.11 million, were point farms, operating 63.0 million acres, or 6.9%, of the total 914.5 million acres of farmland.

The number of farms with annual sales of $1,000 to $9,999 declined last year while all other sales classes increased slightly, NASS said.  Fifty percent of all farms had less than $10,000 in sales; 80% had less than $100,000 in sales, and 8% had sales of $500,000 or more.




Land in farms, at 912 million acres, was down 1 million from 2014, NASS said.  The biggest changes for 2015 were that producers with sales below $10,000 operated 2.92 million fewer acres, while those with sales from $10,000 to $99,999 operated 2.35 million fewer acres.

Still, nearly 31% of all farmland was operated by farms with less than $100,000 in sales, NASS said.  Forty-one percent of all farmland was operated by farms with sales of $500,000 or more.

Market analysts have blamed a series of factors for the changes to larger, fewer farms.  Some of the more popular include an aging demographic as farm children grow up to be something other than farmers, and land encroachment by cities and towns.

Some have suggested increased regulatory concerns and expenses and environmental pressures as reasons, but these seem to be just icing on the real cake of changing demographics.




Cash cattle markets in the Plains Wednesday remained fairly quiet with little trading reported.  The USDA reported 267 head of steers and heifers sold so far this week at $127.47 per cwt up to $135 on a live basis, but this is not enough to establish a market.  On a dressed basis, the USDA reported 328 head this week at $210 to $210.47.

Cattle last week traded $1 to $2 per cwt higher at $132 to mostly $134 on a live basis.  Dressed-basis prices were around $208 to $210, $2 to $4 higher.

Packer bids were reported in the Plains at $134 to $135 on a live basis, but asking prices were reported around $138 to $140.

In dressed markets, cattle were bid at $210 per cwt, but feedlots were asking $215.

The USDA reported higher wholesale beef prices again Wednesday, with choice up $2.58 per cwt at $217.72, and select up $1.42 at $213.72.  The choice/select spread widened to $4.00 from $2.84, and there were 112 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Tuesday was $158.69 per cwt, up $0.42.  This compares with Mar’s Wednesday settlement of $157.95, up $0.92.