Agricultural production has shifted to larger farms, and farmers are relying more on contracts—and less on spot markets—to buy and sell inputs and products. Even so, small farms are still important, and most transactions continue to be made through spot markets where commodities are bought and sold in open market transactions for immediate delivery. Research on farm structure covers these elements, and also examines the ownership and organization of farm businesses; the links among farms, farm households, buyers, input providers, and contractors; and the mix of inputs and products on farms.
The ERS research program on farm structure examines developments in the farm sector as a whole and for individual commodities, assesses their causes, and evaluates their impacts on productivity, financial performance, prices, and environmental outcomes. ERS research provides detailed empirical analyses of specific issues related to the economics of farm structure and organization. For examples of recent and ongoing research topics, see Research on Farm Structure and Organization.
ERS also has three periodic report series related to farm structure:
- Family Farm Reports and Brochures. ERS researchers seek to identify and analyze the key factors affecting farm structure and prepare periodic reports on the changing structure and finances of the diverse types of U.S. farms. For the latest report in the series, see: Structure and Finances of U.S. Farms: Family Farm Report, 2014 Edition (EIB-132, December 2014). ERS also produces brochures on the same topics; for the latest brochure in the series, see: America's Diverse Family Farms, 2016 Edition (EIB-164, December 2016).
- Agricultural Contracting Updates. ERS tracks the use of marketing and production contracts in agriculture across time and commodities.
- Characteristics and Production Costs Reports. ERS researchers examine how production costs vary among producers of different commodities, as well as how farm operator and structural characteristics affect cost and returns estimates.
For a complete list and links to reports in these three series, see Readings.
Finally, ERS and the National Agricultural Statistic Service (NASS) jointly conduct the Agricultural Resource Management Survey (ARMS), an annual survey that collects data on structural characteristics summarized for various classifications of farms—such as commodity specialization, sales class, and various farm typologies—to better understand the changing nature of farming. The Census of Agriculture, conducted by NASS, also provides information on the structure of agriculture that is used extensively by ERS for farm structure analyses. Census data are particularly useful when following trends over long periods of time or when analyzing small groups—such as minority farmers or producers of minor commodities.