Rural areas across our country thrive on agriculture. Not only do local farms provide food, jobs, and an economic boost, but they also create community and a connection to what Americans feed their families. That’s because 96% of all farms in the U.S. are owned and operated by families.
In a society where consumers increasingly want to know where their food comes from, the chances are pretty good that if you eat food grown in America, it came from a farm operated by family members. The USDA’s most recent typology report on the Census of Agriculture also showed that small, midsize, and large family farms combined to sell over 80% of all the agricultural products produced in the U.S. and care for nearly 90% of the land in farms across the country.
The vast majority of family farms are small — defined by USDA as making less than $350,000 in gross income annually. These farms are most common in the Northeast and the South, and they’re most likely to be the type of farm consumers can buy products from directly. The majority of these small family farms specialized in cattle or other crops, such as hay.
Large family farms were more diverse in their specializations, and one of the most common focuses was dairy. Still, 95% of dairy farms, no matter the size, are family owned, and 87% of all dairy cattle in the U.S. call these family farms home. The report noted that there are over 54,000 farms in the U.S. that have at least one dairy cow.
Working with family in any business is complex and requires patience, communication, understanding, respect, and much more. All of those qualities are even more necessary in an industry of challenging work and volatility. But farm families make it work because they see the value in the products and services they are providing to their community near and far. There have been and will continue to be many changes in agriculture over the course of decades and centuries. One thing that remains the same, though, is that family farms are working to produce food for our country and the world.
Katelyn Allen joined the Hoard’s Dairyman team as the Publications Editor in August 2019 and is now an associate editor. Katelyn is a 2019 graduate of Virginia Tech, where she majored in dairy science and minored in communication. Katelyn grew up on her family’s registered Holstein dairy, Glen-Toctin Farm, in Jefferson, Md.