The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

USDA census: Smaller farms falling further behind

New data released today by the Department of Agriculture show that smaller farms are falling further behind their larger neighbors.

The Census of Agriculture, which is released by the USDA every five years, found:

  • The total number of farms fell(link is external), from 2 million in 2017 to 1.9 million in 2022.
  • Many of the farms that failed(link is external) between 2017 and 2022 were those farms with farm sales between $100,000 and $500,000, or farms with farm sales less than $10,000.
  • The number of farms with farm sales greater than $1 million increased(link is external) from 79,386 in 2017 to 107,742 in 2022.
  • The number of farms with farm sales greater than $5 million nearly doubled(link is external) from 8.972 in 2017 to 16,226.
  • While the cost of farming increased, the total value of farm products sold increased from $388 billion to $543 billion.

Increasing farm subsidies, as some members of Congress are proposing, would only widen the divide between small and large farmers.

Some members of Congress(link is external) are seeking to raise the government price floor for certain crops. Their proposals to increase the price guarantees in the USDA’s Price Loss Coverage, or PLC, program would mostly benefit fewer than 6,000 farmers growing peanuts, cotton and rice in just a few states.

Since PLC payments are linked to production, the largest producers get the lion’s share of the funding. In 2021, just 10 percent of farmers received more than 80 percent of all PLC payments.

“Increasing reference prices will only add more fuel to the fire,” said Jared Hayes, the Environmental Working Group’s senior policy analyst.

Most farmers do not grow the crops eligible for these subsidies. A rise in price guarantees will help only the largest producers and accelerate increases in the cost of buying and renting farmland.

Raising price guarantees is especially bad for young farmers, who are smaller and mostly do not grow cotton, rice and peanuts.

“Increasing subsidies for legacy farmers will supercharge land prices, making it even harder for young farmers to compete with their larger, subsidized neighbors,” Hayes said.

Net farm income(link is external) is forecast to be $121 billion in 2024, according to the USDA. That’s below recent record highs. But it’s above the level farmers earned in any year from 2015 to 2020 and close to the 20-year average income.

Despite the dip in profits from farming compared to last year, median farm household income(link is external) is expected to remain steady at nearly $100,000, significantly above the American(link is external) median household income of $75,000.

The largest farms will continue to reap extraordinary profits, according to the USDA. Large commercial farms with sales greater than $1 million are expected to enjoy farm-level net cash income of $571,000(link is external) in 2024.

Rice and peanut farmers are likely to enjoy(link is external) record highs for the prices they earn in 2024. Rice cash receipts are expected to climb to $3.8 billion, up from $3.3 billion, and peanut cash receipts will increase to $1.57 billion, up from $1.56 billion.

The price that cotton farmers earn is also expected to increase in 2024, to $6.96 billion, up from $6.85 billion in 2023.

“Some farmers are struggling, but it’s not the large rice, peanut and cotton farmers who would reap the benefits of higher reference prices,” Hayes said. “A farm bill that increases these price floors at the expense of programs that help farmers withstand extreme weather or produce renewable energy will simply expand a growing economic divide.”

The Environmental Working Group is a community 30 million strong, working to protect our environmental health by changing industry standards.

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