By Hannah Becker on August 1, 2016

Family Farms

The heart of American agriculture

farmer preparing field

“I don’t know how you can be proud of working in an industry that sold out to corporate America,” a non-agriculture colleague stated.

“What?” I replied, caught off guard by her statement.

“Everyone knows agriculture is dominated by corporate-owned farms. I can hardly drive past a farm these days without seeing the corporate signs in the fields,” she replied, listing off a few “big ag” names.

I smiled, “You mean the yield plot signage?”

My colleague gave me a quizzical look, opening the door to an informative discussion on who really owns America’s farms.

Farm ownership facts

According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), more than 97 percent of the 2.1 million farms in America are considered “family owned.”  

A family farm is defined as, “one in which the majority of the business is owned by the operator and individuals related to the operator by blood, marriage, or adoption, including relatives that do not live in the operator household.”

Some family farms are big – consisting of multiple family members farming tens of thousands of acres.

Others – 88 percent, to be exact - are small family farms with less than $350,000 in gross cash farm income (GCFI). Note: gross income isn’t how much money the farm takes home as profit or salary – it’s the farm’s revenue before taxes and operating expenses (and farming can be really, really expensive). 

Less than three percent of today’s farming operations are actually “corporate-owned.” Some states, like Minnesota, even have laws preventing corporate ownership of farms.

Agriculture’s a far cry from corporate domination.

What about those signs?

So what about all those signs touting corporate logos that are spotted along crop fields or on test pens?

If they don’t communicate property ownership, what are they there for?

Branding – just like the Ford logo on your truck or the Coach label on your purse.

Farmers utilize seeds and other production essentials to transform empty fields into food-producing acres. These agriculture products – seeds, applications, etc. – are all produced by a company. And while you and I probably can’t look at a field of corn and tell if it’s Pioneer or DEKALB, the presence of branded signs in planted fields can be extremely helpful in identifying test plots and marketing productive products.

When you see several different types of signs in close proximity to one another, chances are you’re looking at a test plot. Farmers and seed dealers may plant small plots of different types of seeds in the same area to see which type produces the highest yields in their area. What grows well in upstate New York, may not produce the same results in Kansas. Agriculture producers are always trying to learn more about better farming practices through research – some of which can be conducted right on their farm.

Just like shopping for a vehicle, some models fit your family and your lifestyle better. Some crops make more sense in some areas than others.

Family farms feed America

While the supposed “corporate takeover” of America’s farms is a highly popularized myth, it’s just that – a myth. At 97 percent, family owned farms make up the vast majority of our country’s farming operations. Family farmers provide us with quality agriculture products necessary to feed our families, and are projected to continue to do so for generations to come.