Size of Farm Determines Primary Source of Household Income
While the number of U.S. family farms has been relatively stable for the past decade (see table on family and nonfamily farms, by farm size class (gross sales), 1996-2011 ), the roughly 2.1 million family farms vary significantly in farm sales, as do the level and sources of household income of their principal operators. In 2011, the majority of family farms (60 percent) had gross sales of less than $10,000 (see table on characteristics of principal farm operator households, by gross farm sales, 2011 ). These very small farms had negative average farm incomes, typically receiving all of their household income from off-farm sources. On average, they received more than $77,000 in income from off-farm sources in 2011, which is more than family farm households operating larger farms typically received.
Family farms with gross sales of $10,000 to $249,999 represented 30 percent of family farms in 2011. Though still considered to be small farms, the households operating these farms earned, on average, positive returns from their operations. They earned less from off-farm sources compared to households operating the very smallest farms, but with their positive farm earnings, they had higher total household incomes than those operating the smallest farms in 2011. Their average (mean) household income was $79,780 in 2011.
Ten percent of family farms in 2011 were considered to be commercial farms, grossing $250,000 or more. While receiving less in off-farm income than those operating small farms, commercial family farm households earned significantly more on the farms they operated. As a result, they had average household incomes more than twice the level of smaller farm households. The average household income of farm families operating commercial farms was $205,215 in 2011.