A USDA Economic Research Service report looks at U.S. animal agriculture and the many significant transformations that have unfolded to bring the industry to where it is today. Most notably is the sector's rapid industrialization over the past two decades.

The study considers the pros and cons of this transformation, noting, for example, that industrialization of U.S. livestock farms has led to lower costs and higher returns. It also points out that the trend has concentrated livestock rearing in locations, leading to increased air and water pollution and more extensive antibiotic use. 

The study outlines, the production lotus (the farm size, in annual sales, at which one half of national production comes from large farms and half from small farms) from 1987 to 2002 rose by 60 percent in the broiler sector, 100 percent for fed-cattle, 240 percent in dairy and 2,000 percent in pork production. The trend has continued since 2002.

The emergence of business structures such as vertically integrated operations have more closely linked family owned farms to input providers and processors, which minimizes financial risks but accelerates "the diffusion of innovations," the ERS report notes.

The report is based on ERS research, which relies on farm-level data cultivated from the Agriculture Census, the Agricultural Resource Management Survey and other livestock surveys.

To view the full report, click here.