Publications

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  • America's Diverse Family Farms: Structure and Finances

    EIB-13, May 15, 2006

    American farms vary widely in size and other characteristics, but farming is still an industry of family businesses. Ninety-eight percent of farms are family farms, and they account for 86 percent of farm production. Very small farms are growing in number, and small family farms continue to own most farmland. But production is shifting toward very large family farms. Because small-farm households receive most of their income from off-farm work, general economic policies-such as tax policy or economic development policy-can be as important to them as traditional farm policy.

  • Structure and Finances of U.S. Farms: 2005 Family Farm Report

    EIB-12, May 15, 2006

    Most farms in the United States-98 percent in 2003-are family farms. They are organized as proprietorships, partnerships, or family corporations. Even the largest farms tend to be family farms. Very large family farms account for a small share of farms but a large-and growing-share of farm sales. Small family farms account for most farms but produce a modest share of farm output. Median income for farm households is 10 percent greater than the median for all U.S. households. Small-farm households also receive substantial off-farm income.

  • Growing Farm Size and the Distribution of Farm Payments

    EB-6, March 14, 2006

    Crop production is shifting to much larger farms. Since government commodity payments reflect production volumes for program commodities, payments are also shifting to larger farms. In turn, the operators of very large farms have substantially higher household incomes than other farm households, and as a result government commodity payments are also shifting to much higher-income households. Since the changes in farm structure appear to be ongoing, commodity payments will likely, under current policies, continue to shift to higher income households. This brief uses 2003 Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS) data to detail the shifts.

  • Economic Well-Being of Farm Households

    EB-7, March 14, 2006

    ERS measures economic well-being, measured by the income and wealth, of the average farm household

  • Financial Assistance to Farmers is Evolving

    Amber Waves, November 01, 2005

    The U.S. Government has long provided financial assistance to farmers. Today’s payments, like those of the past, are mostly commodity based. Since farm production is shifting to much larger farms, and because commodity payments follow production, they are increasingly directed to high-income households. Only a small share of government commodity payments now goes to low-income households.

  • Farm Poverty Lowest in U.S. History

    Amber Waves, September 01, 2005

    Fifty years ago, half of all U.S. farm families were poor. Today, however, farm poverty is at its lowest level in the Nation's history due to the availability of remunerative off-farm employment coupled with onfarm gains in labor productivity.

  • How Do U.S. Farmers Plan for Retirement?

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2005

    Retirement and succession planning are of considerable importance to farm households and there are good reasons to believe that they are affected by savings and retirement policies in ways that are different from the rest of the Nation's households. This article examines how farmers save for retirement as well as their dependency on social security.

  • Farm Income Less Important to Most Corn Farm Households

    Amber Waves, February 01, 2005

    This article shows that off-farm income is the most important component of household income for a majority of corn farm households. Consequently, the well-being of most farm households depends on economic conditions and opportunities off the farm much more than on factors affecting the return to farming.

  • Contracts, Markets, and Prices: Organizing the Production and Use of Agricultural Commodities

    AER-837, November 01, 2004

    Demand for specific product attributes is making contracts the choice over traditional spot markets for many livestock commodities and some major crops-e.g., sugar beets, fruit, tomatoes.

  • Rural America At A Glance, 2004

    AIB-793, September 30, 2004

    Rural America At A Glance, 2004 is a six-page brochure that highlights the most recent indicators of social and economic conditions in rural areas for use in developing policies and programs to assist rural areas. The brochure is the third in a series of reports that uses current social and economic data to highlight population, labor market, income, and poverty trends in rural areas. This brochure provides information on key rural conditions and trends for use by public and private decisionmakers and others in efforts to enhance the economic opportunities and quality of life for rural people and their communities.

  • Are Bankruptcies Behind the Drop in Farm Numbers?

    Amber Waves, April 01, 2004

    The number of U.S. farms declined by two-thirds between 1935 and 2002. While this decline is commonly associated with high rates of farm bankruptcy, a new study finds the link between dwindling farm numbers and farm bankruptcies to be weak.

  • Farm Payments: Decoupled Payments Increase Households' Well-Being, Not Production

    Amber Waves, February 03, 2003

    Although decoupled payments do not distort price incentives for producers, they can still alter production decisions because payments increase farm operators' income, and the expectation of fixed, future payments increases their wealth. Increased income and wealth from decoupled payments, as from any other source of income, has lasting effects on households' decisions about how much to spend, save, and work.

  • The Economic Well-Being of Farm Households

    Amber Waves, February 03, 2003

    Traditional assessments of the economic well-being of the farming population focused on farm income. Earnings from farming, however, are low for most farming households, and farm households have increasingly turned to nonfarm-related sources of income.

  • Decoupled Payments: Household Income Transfers in Contemporary U.S. Agriculture

    AER-822, February 01, 2003

    Decoupled payments are lump-sum income transfers to farm operators that do not depend on current production, factor use, or commodity prices. Such payments are not currently constrained by global trade rules, but many countries argue that they distort production and trade and that their use should be limited. This report examines the U.S. experience with decoupled payments in its Production Flexibility Contracts program under the Federal Agriculture Improvement and Reform (FAIR) Act of 1996. The payments have improved the well-being of recipient farm households, enabling them to comfortably increase spending, savings, investments, and leisure but with minimal distortion of U.S. agricultural production and trade. However, farm operators may retain as little as 40 percent of program benefits due to higher land rents. While commercial farms received the largest share of decoupled payments, they rent in over two-thirds of their program acres, which suggests that a sizable portion of their program benefits may be passed through to nonfarming landowners. (Mary E. Burfisher and Jeffrey Hopkins, editors)

  • Structural and Financial Characteristics of U.S. Farms: 2001 Family Farm Report

    AIB-768, May 25, 2001

    Family farms vary widely in size and other characteristics, ranging from very small retirement and residential farms to establishments with sales in the millions of dollars. The farm typology developed by the Economic Research Service (ERS) categorizes farms into groups based primarily on occupation of the operator and sales class of the farm. The typology groups reflect operators' expectations from farming, position in the life cycle, and dependence on agriculture. The groups differ in their importance to the farm sector, product specialization, program participation, and dependence on farm income. These (and other) differences are discussed in this report.

  • ERS Farm Typology for a Diverse Agricultural Sector

    AIB-759, September 01, 2000

    The Economic Research Service (ERS) developed a farm typology which categorizes farms into more homogeneous groups than do classifications based on sales volume alone, producing a more effective policy development tool. The typology is used to describe U.S. farms.

  • Do the Poor Pay More for Food? Item Selection and Price Differences Affect Low-Income Household Food Costs

    AER-759, December 01, 1997

    Low-income households may face higher food prices for three reasons: (1) on average, low-income households may spend less in supermarkets--which typically offer the lowest prices and greatest range of brands, package sizes, and quality choices; (2) low-income households are less likely to live in suburban locations where food prices are typically lower; and (3) supermarkets in low-income neighborhoods may charge higher prices than those in nearby higher income neighborhoods. Despite the prevailing higher prices, surveys of household food expenditures show that low-income households typically spend less than other households, on a per unit basis, for the foods they buy. Low-income households may realize lower costs by selecting more economical foods and lower quality items. In areas where food choices are limited due to the kinds and locations of foodstores, households may have sharply higher food costs.