Market News & Headlines >> USDA Details Cropland Consolidation

The continued consolidation of U.S. cropland into larger farms has been driven in part by more efficient farming methods, USDA’s Economic Research Service indicated in an article published on Dec. 19 in the agency’s Amber Waves magazine. 

ERS reports that “large” crop farms of 2000 acres or more accounted for 36% of U.S. cropland in 2012, up from 15% in 1987. Most of the shift in cropland was away from mid-sized farms (200 to 999 acres) which accounted for only 29% of U.S. farmland in 2012, down from 47% in 1987. “This shift has occurred in almost all field crops – such as corn, soybeans and wheat – and in almost all fruit, vegetable, nut, melon and berry crops,” said the authors of the article, James M. MacDonald and Robert Hoppe. 

The authors note the number of large crop farms nearly doubled from 20,000 in 1987 to almost 40,000 in 2012, while the number of mid-sized farms declined by nearly 50% from 478,000 to 254,000. Meanwhile, the number of small farms (50-199 acres) fell from about 610,000 in 1987 to just over 400,000 in 2012. The total number of U.S. crop farms contracted by 16.1% to just under 1.552 million in 2012 from slightly under 1.849 million in 1987. 

Factors that contributed to the continued consolidation in the number of farms included improvements in planting and harvesting efficiency due to bigger, faster farm equipment, the authors said. The adoption of chemical pesticides, herbicide-tolerant seeds and reduced tillage practices has also reduced the amount of time farmers need to spend on each acre’s production, they noted. 

Also, because most farmland is rented, as operators of mid-sized farms retire or change careers, their land is often rented to other farms, “usually those operating larger farms,” the authors said.