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More U.S. Farms Close Up Shop As The Remaining Ones Grow Larger

Luke Runyon
KUNC and Harvest Public Media
The number of U.S. farms continues to decline, as it has for decades, while the average farm size grows larger.

The number of farms and ranches in the U.S. is on the decline and the farms that remain are getting bigger, according to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The U.S. has lost nearly 120,000 farms since 2008, and 18,000 last year alone, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The average farm size in the U.S. increased 5 percent over those 7 years, to an average size of 441 acres in 2015.

“This is a long-term trend in agriculture that the larger farms need more land in order to operate,” says Bill Meyer, a regional director for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

The farm landscape has been moving in this direction since World War II. Midsize farms get bigger. They consolidate. The ones that don’t survive, close up and sell.

“But we also are seeing a larger growth in the number of small farms,” Meyer says. “Because there’s a lot more urban farms, people are getting into local food markets. People want to be involved in agriculture so they have a little hobby farm.”

The smallest farms tend to show the highest volatility in the USDA’s figures, with the largest charted decline among farms that report less than $10,000 in annual sales.

Plummeting commodity crop and cattle prices could exacerbate the trend next year, Meyer says, and he expects even more farmers to leave the field.

As KUNC’s managing editor and reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I edit and produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.
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