5 Facts about Family Farms

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service reports that family-owned farms remain the backbone of the agriculture industry. The latest data from the 2012 Census of Agriculture farm typology report helps shine light on the question, “What is a family farm?”

By definition, a family farm is any farm where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator, including through blood, marriage, or adoption.

Key highlights from the report include the following five facts about family farms in the United States:

1. Food equals family – 97% of the 2.1 million farms in the United States are family-owned operations.

2. Small business matters – 88% of all U.S. farms are small family farms.

3. Local connections come in small packages – 58% of all direct farm sales to consumers come from small family farms.

4. Big business matters too – 64% of all vegetable sales and 66% of all dairy sales come from the 3% of farms that are large or very large family farms.

5. Farming provides new beginnings – 18% of principal operators on family farms in the U.S. started within the last 10 years.

The report classifies all farms into unique categories based on three criteria: who owns the operation, whether farming is the principal operator’s primary occupation, and gross cash farm cash income (GCFI).

Small family farms have GCFI less than $350,000; midsize family farms have GCFI from $350,000 to $999,999; and large family farms have GCFI of $1 million or more.

Small farms are further divided based on whether the principal operator works primarily on or off the farm.