EDITORIAL: Family farms dominate agriculture

Dec. 31—Let us forever lay to rest the popular fiction that family-owned and -operated farms are a small minority and the accompanying corollary that corporations are taking over U.S. agriculture.

It just ain't so. It never was and never will be.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently produced a study that found 98% of the 2 million farms in the U.S. are family farms. That's a far cry from the chatter online about the demise of the family farm.

"Family farmers are disappearing across rural America."

"Small American farmers are nearing extinction."

"How America's food giants swallowed the family farmers."

These are just three of the headlines that continue to proliferate on the internet and elsewhere announcing the death of the family farm.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the demise of the family farm are greatly exaggerated.

This is not to say that farming is getting easier for families, or anyone else. More regulations, more rules, more mandates and more requirements continue to target farms and ranches. What lawmakers and their siblings, the rulemakers, don't realize is that nearly every new regulation comes with a sheaf of new reporting requirements. And those requirements mean farmers must spend more time shuffling paperwork and less time growing crops and livestock.

It is this 8 1/2-by-11 burden that causes many small farmers to consider selling their operations to larger farms that have staff dedicated to keeping the paperwork in order.

If you want to bemoan the plight of the family farmer, you should first understand that fewer regulations are needed, not more.

One might wonder: If most farms are family operations, why are they so big?

In fact, most farms are the "right size." Some farmers — those who grow herbs, for example — do well on a handful of acres or even a portion of an acre. The cost of production, size of the crop and price it brings all determine whether it is worthwhile.

Other farms, to reach a level of efficiency, must be large. A good example is a wheat farm. It requires tractors, planters, combines and an array of other equipment and implements. The farmer then must figure out the size that works best for that operation, considering the variable price of wheat, yields and many other factors.

In between are other farms that grow everything from row crops to seed crops.

Again, the key is to make the farm the right size to maximize efficiency.

According to the USDA, 89% of all U.S. farms are small family farms. They occupy a little less than half of all the farmland and produce about 20% of the total crop value.

About 3% of all family farms are large, and grow 46% of the nation's crops and livestock on about 25% of the ag land, according to USDA.

Only 2% of all farms are not owned and operated by families. They are on 10% of the agricultural land and produce 17% of the nation's crops and livestock. Again, this is according to USDA.

Remember this the next time an alarmist screeches that family farmers are "disappearing."

They haven't disappeared, they're probably just out back working — or at the kitchen table filling out paperwork.