There's a strong misperception that U.S. agriculture is no longer in the hands of individuals. However, that's not really the case. While there have been tremendous shifts in agriculture, that transition has been underway for decades -- since the turn of the last century -- as more people moved away from the farm and into the city.
USDA's Economic Research Service has released a report that shows 98 percent of U.S. farms are "family farms." The report titled, Structure and Finances of U.S. Farms: 2005 Family Farm Report, defined family farms as proprietorships, partnerships or family operations that do not have hired managers.
Though contracting has grown at a ''slow and steady rate'' over the years, the report shows that the share of total agricultural production under contract grew by only 5 percentage points between 1994/1995 and 2003.
Average operating profit margins, and average return rates on assets and equity were negative for small farms, according to the report. But those area were positive for large, very large and non-family farms. Not really surprising as it reflects the challenge that "small farms" have always faced. Of course, "small" is an evolving scale.
Small farm households receive substantial off-farm income, the report notes. Yet it also shows that large and very large farms rely on an average off-farm income of $30,000 annually to provide for their livelihood.
The study further shows that 61 percent of all U.S. farms did not participate in any farm program in 2003. This indicates that only a minority of farmers receive agricultural subsidies.
A final important finding is that after combining farm and off-farm income, the median farm household income at $47,600 in 2003 was 10 percent greater than the $43,300 median income for all U.S. households. Only operators of limited-resource and retirement farms had a median income below the national median.
To view the entire report, click here.