Key Components of a National Policy for Small Farms
USDA-Cooperative State Research, Education,
and Extension Service
I am not sure that a national small farm policy is possible or even desirable. To the extent that we have a current policy, it (and the programs deriving from it) aims at making large farms out of small ones. Such a policy may not be very realistic, given the diversity of small farm operators.
Who are small farmers? The most obvious answer is that they are most of U. S. farmers. According to the 1992 Census of Agriculture, 47% of U. S. farms sell less than $10,000 worth of produce annually. Nearly 10 years ago I made some estimates about "noncommercial" farm operators, then defined as those with less than $20, 000 (now $50, 000) of sales annually. Using the current definition, these are a little over 70% of all farms.
I estimated that 15-20 percent were low-income, limited resource farmers (from non-farm income alternative, limited by education, age, etc.) Roughly 25 percent were residential or hobby farmers; and 40-50 percent were "working" small farmers who depended on the farm income as a part of total family income.
I believe that an effective and compre-hensive rural policy, including incentives for rural economic and social develop-ment, combined with a concerted effort to see that other, more "traditional" agri-cultural policies (especially research and extension policies), do not discriminate on the basis of farm size, may best serve the interests of the operators of small farms.
Return to Table of Contents
Return to Title Page