Texas and Montana Lost 3.7 Million Acres of “Land in Farms” Last Year

An annual USDA report which keeps tabs on the total amount of land being used for farming was released earlier this month. This year’s report revealed some large swings in acreage farmed from 2011 to 2012, primarily attributed to discontinued livestock ranching operations in the two states of Texas and Montana. Weather, water, drought, and high feed costs led to the loss of 3.7 million acres of land farmed in those two states.

In 2012, 3 million fewer acres were farmed, to total 914 million acres. That net number is a result of losses of 4.1 million acres in some states and gains of 1.1 million acres in other states. The states which gained farmland acres were Georgia, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Virginia.

Farm numbers by category:

There are 2.2 million farms in the U.S. The USDA’s definition of a farm is “any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the year”.

The total number of farms decreased by 11,630 last year and the average farm size increased by 1 acre, to 421 acres.

The largest economic farm size measured by the USDA are those with gross sales and/or government program payments totaling more than $500,000. This division increased in farm numbers by 8.6 percent last year, to a total of 145,190 farms. This is impressive in light of the year’s extreme drought conditions.

In contrast to a growth in the farms in the highest income category in 2012, the smallest economic farm classification — defined by $1,000 to $9,999 in sales, decreased in number by 2.5 percent last year to a total of 1,172,200 farms.

The other three economic farm categories all increased in number slightly in 2012.

Farmland Owned According to Income Category:

The amount of land farmed by the farms in the greater than $500,000 sales classification increased 3.7 percent to 317.1 million acres, while all of the other classes saw a decrease in total land farmed. These most lucrative farms now own 35 percent of the land farmed in the U.S.

Whereas the smallest sales class farm of $1,000 to $9,999 decreased in the amount of land farmed by 3.9 percent to less than 97 million acres. The report attributes part of this decrease to some of these farms moving up into a higher economic class.

Farms with cattle operations decreased by 1 percent in 2012, and those with milk cows decreased 3 percent. Hog, sheep, and goat operations all decreased by 1 percent.

Texas led the losses in state acreage farmed at a whopping 2 million acres lost, due to their drought conditions and cattle ranching. Montana was next with a loss of 1.7 million acres, also attributed to cattle ranching.

Note: The USDA’s definition of land in farms consists of agricultural land used for crops, pasture, or grazing. Also included is woodland and wasteland not actually under cultivation or used for pasture or grazing, provided it was part of the farm operator’s total operation. Land in farms includes acres in the Conservation Reserve, Wetlands Reserve Programs, or other government programs.

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Source: The Farms, Land in Farms, and Livestock Operations. http://usda01.library.cornell.edu/usda/current/FarmLandIn/FarmLandIn-02-19-2013.pdf

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