Farming and Farm Income

American agriculture and rural life underwent a tremendous transformation in the 20th century. Early 20th century agriculture was labor intensive, and it took place on many small, diversified farms in rural areas where more than half the U.S. population lived. Agricultural production in the 21st century, on the other hand, is concentrated on a smaller number of large, specialized farms in rural areas where less than a fourth of the U.S. population lives. The following material provides an overview of these trends, as well as trends in farm sector and farm household incomes.


Distribution of farms and value of production varies by farm type

Gross cash farm income (GCFI) includes income from commodity cash receipts, farm-related income, and government payments. Family farms (where the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator) of various types together accounted for nearly 99 percent of U.S. farms in 2016. Small family farms (less than $350,000 in GCFI) account for 90 percent of all U.S. farms. Large-scale family farms ($1 million or more in GCFI) account for about 3 percent of farms but 45 percent of the value of production.

Most farmers receive off-farm income, but small-scale operators depend on it

Median total household income among all farm households ($76,250) exceeded the median for all U.S. households ($59,039) in 2016. Slightly more than half of U.S. farms are very small, with annual farm sales under $10,000; the households operating these farms typically rely on off-farm sources for the majority of their household income. Median household income and income from farming increase with farm size; the typical household operating the largest commercial farms earned $365,069 in 2016, and most of that came from farming.