Changing Character and Structure of American Agriculture:

An Overview

CED-78-178: Published: Sep 26, 1978. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 1978.

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The number of farms in the United States dropped from a high of 6.8 million in 1935 to 2.34 million reported in 1974. Only 1.7 million farms are considered to be commercial, selling more than $2,500 of goods per year. Average farm size jumped from 197 acres in 1940 to 440 in 1974, and the average size of commercial farms is 534 acres. It is estimated that today less than one-half of all farmland is owned by the operator.

Three basic pressures have contributed to the concentration and specialization in the farm sector: rising farm costs, the availability of highly productive crop-specific farm technology, and Government policies and programs. Since World War II, general inflation and rising costs have continually narrowed profit margins. To maintain income, the surviving farmer increased his farm size, expanded production, and sought off-farm income. Although farmers made use of technological breakthroughs, they found themselves requiring more equipment, more land, and more capital. Federal programs designed to buffer fluctuations in supply and demand of foodstuffs and fibers have provided farmers with direct subsidies since the 1930s; however, only 10 percent of all farmers receive direct Government subsidies, and 1 percent receive almost 29 percent of all Government program payments. The corporate form of ownership makes up a substantial portion of larger farm classes, and changes in farm structure have had a substantial impact on rural surroundings. Much of the current Government policy is based on aggregate statistics, and much more could be learned from simply analyzing the available data more thoroughly.

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