More Americans are demanding that their food is grown locally and organically, and with that trend, the number of small farms across the country has increased markedly, according to the Agriculture Department’s latest census.
In the state of Indiana, the number of farms of less than ten acres increased by nearly 80 percent between 2002 to 2007, said Greg Preston, director of the Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service.
‘It’s skyrocketing. We are getting a lot of newer farmers coming in that are smaller – going into direct marketing, specialty products, organics, locally grown, this type of stuff,’ Preston stated.
However, the increase in small farms coupled with the success of a handful of very large farms, has made it more difficult for medium-sized farms to survive. Just five percent of total farms, about 125,000 operations, accounted for 75 percent of agricultural production in 2007. Around a third of farms are classified as lifestyle/recreation because they generate less than $250,000 in sales, and the farmer has another job as a primary occupation.
In addition, some established small farms that have long used organic growing methods have reported struggling with the costs and paperwork required by new federal organic standards. In early 2007, USA Today reported that some well-established small farmers were turning to alternative organic certifications, such as the Certified Naturally Grown program, because federal standards had become too complicated and expensive to them to maintain.
The agriculture census comes out every five years, providing a snapshot of rural America. The number of farms in America peaked in 1935, at 6.8 million, and declined for several decades after that. In the last two decades, however, it has plateaued between 2 million and 2.5 million.