While large-scale farms still produce most of the food in Iowa, a recent government census suggests smaller farms are making a comeback. The USDA, which does a census every five years, counted 92,856 farms in Iowa in 2007, up from 90,655 in 2002.

The biggest increase was in farms with less than $1,000 in sales, according to the count released Wednesday. The number of farms reporting sales of under $10,000 also was up significantly.
Sally Worley, a spokeswoman for Practical Farmers of Iowa, said the increase reflects the growing demand for locally produced foods. "Farmers are trying to start operations to meet that demand," she said. "We really have seen a change in the Iowa landscape of farming" - with the comeback of small-scale operations, she added.

Some of Iowa's newest small farmers produce vegetables, eggs and honey that they sell by subscription and at the Downtown Farmers Market in Des Moines. Mike Duffy, an economist at Iowa State University, said it was not entirely clear what was happening statewide. Duffy says the newer small farms hardly qualify as commercial operations.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said he was heartened by the growth of small-scale farms nationwide, but he is concerned that medium-size operations continue to disappear. "The health of rural communities depends on us maintaining those small and mid-sized farms," Vilsack said.

At the same time, the census showed that the most food production occurs on ever-larger farms in Iowa, as well as nationwide. In 2007, there were 4,213 farms with at least $1 million in sales. That represents an increase from 1,518 in 2002.

Increased payments to farmers for land-conservation measures should help keep smaller operations in business, and those farms also could get checks in the future for reducing carbon emissions, he said.

Farmers also are getting older as a group. In 2002, the average age of a principal operator of a farm was 54.3 years old. In 2007, the average age was 56.1.

Source: Des Moines Register