Census - Big farms dominating agriculture more than ever

Friday, June 4, 2004

Just 3 percent of the nation's farms -- those with sales of more than a half-million dollars a year -- are producing more than 60 percent of America's agricultural goods, according to the government's most in-depth look at who grows what.

While farming remains an occupation dominated by middle-aged and older men, women are making some inroads, the Agriculture Department said Thursday in its latest Census of Agriculture. The census is done every five years; the latest numbers cover 2002. The 70,600 farms and ranches with annual sales of more than $500,000 produced about 62 percent of the nation's agricultural products in 2002, the report said. In 1997, when the last survey was done, that share was 56.6 percent.

The department said U.S. farms produced $200.6 billion in products in 2002, an average of about $94,200 for each farm. That was a gain of about $3,400 from 1997. Missouri chipped in about $5 billion of that, but the Missouri farm averaged only $46,661 in total market value of products sold.

The value of products sold by the average farm in Cape Girardeau ($36,809), Bollinger ($21,451) and Perry ($33,573) counties came in under the state average. Meanwhile, the average Scott County farm produced $138,321. This is due in large part to the fact that 25 percent of Scott County farms had sales valued at over $100,000.

"Bigger farms are more feasible," said Doug Lynn with the USDA Farm Service Center in Scott County. "In order to make a profit, farmers have to farm more acres. The time of the small family farm has come and gone."

Almost 16 percent of Scott County's farms are 1,000 acres or more. In Cape Girardeau, Bollinger and Perry counties, no more than 4 percent of the farms exceed 1,000 acres, and no more than 12 percent are larger than 500 acres.

Perry County Farm Bureau president Erwin Kassel said that is because the hilly and rough land in these counties doesn't lend itself to bigger farms. Bigger farms usually do business on expansive, flat country, he said.

About 73 percent of farmers nationwide were men, but women are a growing presence. In 2002, almost 237,200 women were principal operators, the main makers of day-to-day farming decisions. That's 27,000 more than in 1997.

In Bollinger County, 9.5 percent of the farms are principally operated by women. Cape Girardeau (7.8 percent), Perry (5.7) and Scott (3.9) counties came in under that total. Sixty percent of female-operated farms were ones from which crops were harvested.

Staff reporter Tony Rehagen contributed to this report.

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