The latest National Agricultural Census Service census shows small-scale farming operations are making a comeback. The number of farms nationwide has increased 4 percent from 2.1 million farms to 2.2 million as farms have become more diverse in ownership and in offerings. At the same time however, U.S. acres used for farmland in 2007 totaled 922 million acres. This is down 16 million acres from 2002 (a 2% drop).
The NASS census shows that Iowa farms continue to expand as an agricultural state with 2,201 new farms started between 2002 to 2007. However, the total amount of acreage for farming in Iowa has declined by just under 982,000 acres, a 3% drop, since 2002.
Overall in the U.S., The number of farms reporting sales of $1,000 or less was up significantly, to 688,833 in 2007 from 570,919 in 2002, according to the count released earlier this month which may reflect the growing demand for locally produced foods. Nearly 300,000 new farms have begun operation since the last census in 2002. New farms, which make up 13% of all farms tend to be smaller, with the average size being 201 acres or less than half the size of older farms. The produce sold tends to be half the value of older farms as only 1/3 of new farm producers farm as their primary vocation. In Iowa farms with sales of less than $2,500 have grown from 23,436 in 2002 to 26,730 in 2007, an increase of 12%.
Also growing nationally are the number of farms with annual sales of $500,000 or more which now number 46,000. In Iowa, there mega-farms almost doubled between 2002-2007 with an increase of 4,714 farms (or 10% of all growth).
Falling are family and small farms with sales between $9,999 and $499,999. In Iowa, there were 63,195 farms in 2002, in 2007 there were 47,563, a decline of 25%.
The struggle between the expanding urban areas of Iowa, corporate farmers, and family operations will continue into the future as locally-grown agriculture concerns and national economic agendas faceoff in the marketplace, especially as the need for green energy is flagged as a driver for aiding the ailing economy.