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Farm numbers way down in USA

(Tuesday, June 3, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Reuters via the Agribusiness Examiner: There are 2.16 million farms in the United States, less than one-third of the peak figure as growers replaced grueling hand labor with mechanical equipment, hybrid seeds and chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Since peaking at 6.8 million in 1935, when more than one-fourth of Americans lived on the land, farm numbers fell relentlessly for half a century. Annual reports have pegged farm numbers at 2.16 million-2.19 million for the past decade.

A constant worry for rural leaders is how to provide high-quality services while the population base declines.

Accompanying the fall in farm numbers was the emergence of what Agriculture Department analysts call a "dual structure" in agriculture --- a large number of small farms, a highly productive group of mammoth operators and a shrinking number of mid-size farmers under economic pressure.

Farm activists focus on improving the chances for success of mid-size operators, who they often call family-size farmers although nearly all U.S. farms are owned by families. Mid-size farms can require fulltime labor, precluding off-farm work, but are not as financially stable as large farms.

Of the 2.16 million U.S. farms, 1.17 million are small farms with less than $40,000 in sales a year --- so small they are parttime or even hobby farms. There were 637,100 mid-size farms and 348,160 large farms with sales over $100,000 a year.

The number of mid-size farms has dropped by 41,340 in five years while the number of small farms has grown. The number of large operations was up slightly.

According to the government, a farm is "any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year."