Since just after World War II, the number of people employed in agriculture has dropped by half.
Today, just 4% of U.S. farms produce 66% of farm products. Most of America’s farms are small and nearly all are family-run—but they’re also disappearing. In 1935, the number of farms peaked at almost 7 million. By 2007, that number had dropped to about 2.2 million farms.
In 1870, about half of all Americans had jobs in agriculture, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Today, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that farmworkers comprise less than 1% of salary workers in the U.S. Nevertheless, production is still huge. U.S. farmers raise hundreds of millions of egg-laying hens, harvest millions of tons of fruits and vegetables, and keep the rest of the world supplied with corn, wheat, and soybeans. A single acre of land can grow 50,000 pounds of strawberries or 3,000 pounds of wheat, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation; and in 2018 alone, $139.6 billion worth of U.S. agricultural products were exported around the world.
Despite demand, the average age of farmers continues to rise while income losses exacerbated by trade wars expand for farmers across the country. In Wisconsin, the state’s trademark family dairy farms may disappear altogether, according to October comments made by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.
To find out more about this complex and essential industry, Stacker compiled a gallery of 50 facts about U.S. farming. We’ve relied on authoritative sources that include the American Farm Bureau Federation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and industry and trade groups. Keep reading to find out just how many farms are left in the U.S., how much American land is use for agriculture, and the role of Jethro Tull in American farming.
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Roughly 3 million people work for the country’s more than 2 million farms. Nearly all of these farms are family-run.
The USDA defines a farm as a place producing and selling at least $1,000 of agricultural products in a year (or one that would have under normal conditions). Farm size is measured by gross cash farm income or GCFI.
In the United States, a farm is considered small if its gross income is less than $350,000 a year. Nine out of 10 farms in the country rank as small, accounting for 52% of the land and 26% of production.
Large-scale family farms are those that earn between $1 million and $4.9 million a year. They comprise just 2.5% of U.S. farms—but account for over two-thirds of dairy production and more than half of fruit and vegetable production.
All but roughly 5% of American farmers are white, according to the 2017 federal census of U.S. farms. The number of Hispanic farmers has grown to 112,451, while only about 46,000 U.S. farmers are black.
Based on this average, farmers around the world will have to grow about 70% more food than they do now in order to meet demands by the year 2050. At that point, the global population is expected to increase by 2.2 billion.
The U.S. has more than 900 million acres of farmland with a real estate value of more than $2 trillion. As the number of farms has decreased, the average land size for the average farm has increased.
The number of women farm operators spiked by 27% between 2012 and 2017, according to the government’s farming census. Today, more than half of all farms in this country boast at least one woman making business decisions.
The top farm products in the U.S. are cattle, corn, and soybeans. Agricultural exports from the United States in 2018 were valued at about $143 billion but are expected to decrease to about $137 billion for 2019.
A hen can lay about 250 eggs a year. China is the largest egg producer in the world, with roughly 160 billion a year.
Most of the soybeans grown in the U.S. go toward feeding livestock, but they’re also used in the production of other goods like crayons. One acre of soybeans can produce 82,368 crayons.
The United States is home to 47 breeds of sheep. One pound of wool can make 10 miles of yarn. Inside a baseball, the core is wrapped in 150 yards of wool yarn.
Tall, dense lines of trees are often planted around the edges of fruit farms. They act as windbreaks to protect trees and help prevent soil erosion.
One bushel of wheat weighs about 60 pounds and contains about 1 million individual kernels. It can yield about 42 pounds of white flour, 60 pounds of whole wheat flour, about 45 24-ounces boxes of wheat flake cereal, or about 42 pounds of pasta.
American Hiram Moore’s invention of the wheat combine allowed for the automated process of removing wheat heads from stems and separating out the kernels. Each head on a stem of wheat contains about 50 kernels. Wheat is ready to be harvested when it dries out and turns golden.
On average, a dairy cow produces 6.3 gallons of milk a day and 46,000 glasses of milk a year. It takes 350 squirts to make a gallon of milk. As with any mammal, to produce milk a cow must give birth. Calves are separated from their mothers so that milk can be siphoned off for commercial production. Dairy calves are typically impregnated every year.
The number of U.S. farms reporting net losses between 2012 and 2017 rose 1.2% to 1.15 million. The number of farms reporting net profits dropped 8.3% to fewer than 900,000. The median household income among all farms was about $76,000 in 2017, higher than the median $61,000 for all households.
The average age of an American farmer is 58, up 1.2 years in half a decade. The average age of an organic farmer, meanwhile, is 52.
Only two in five small farmers in the United States turn a profit each year, and about two-thirds work another job. Slightly more than half of U.S. farms are very small, with annual sales of less than $10,000.
California has 2,700 organic farms, about one-fifth of the country’s total organic land. Only two other states—Wisconsin and New York—have more than 1,000 organic farms.
Nearly three-quarters of all cranberries are grown in the U.S., mostly in Wisconsin, as well as in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Oregon, and Washington. It takes about 4,400 cranberries to make a gallon of juice.
Farm and ranch families make up less than 2% of the U.S. population—down from 70% in 1840. That dramatic shift in America’s workforce shows a complete metamorphosis in the country’s economy, once largely dependent on agriculture.
About 40% of the land in the United States is used for agriculture, including cropland and pastureland. U.S. farmers produce 10% of the world’s wheat and 20% percent of the world’s beef, pork, and lamb.
Peanut farmers in the U.S. produce their crops on about 1.5 million acres of land. About half the country’s peanuts come from Georgia. Runner peanuts are used mostly in peanut butter, while Virginia and Spanish peanuts are often used for snacks and Valencia peanuts are used largely for roasting and boiling.
Roughly two-thirds of mushrooms grown in the U.S. come from Pennsylvania, with California and Florida coming in second and third for production. There are 300 edible species of mushrooms, 30 of which have been domesticated and 10 of which are produced commercially.
There’s a reason the potato is the state vegetable of Idaho. The state grows a full third of potatoes in the U.S., bringing in an estimated $27 billion a year. The state has almost 26,000 farms producing over 180 goods.
The United States accounts for a third of all corn grown globally and is the biggest corn exporter in the world. Other corn-producing giants are China and Brazil. The biggest corn-growing states in the U.S. are Iowa and Illinois.
Total U.S. production of hops, used in making beer, was about 107 million pounds in 2018. Washington state grew the most, at almost 77 million pounds, while a distant second was Idaho with roughly 16 million pounds.
A third of U.S. farm production incorporates contracts to manage risk, price, quality, and markets. Production contracts are more common in livestock farming, including most poultry, egg, and hog farms. In a marketing contract, often used in tobacco and sugar beet farming, ownership of the commodity stays with the farmer during production. In a production contract, the buyer usually owns the commodity during production and the farmer is paid a fee.
There were around 250,000 farms in Texas at the end of 2018. Missouri had the second-highest number of farms at 95,000.
Wisconsin has nearly 8,000 dairy farms, more than any other state. But as struggles continue with declining milk prices, a transition to larger farms, international trade issues, and increased rates of suicide among farmers, the state has lost over 550 dairy farms so far in 2019 alone.
The United States has by far the highest acreage of genetically modified crops worldwide including maize, soybean, cotton, canola, sugar beets, alfalfa, papaya, squash, and potatoes. Nearly all U.S. soybeans are genetically modified to tolerate herbicides.
Georgia might be known as the “Peach State,” but California grows the most peaches. The Golden State produced 479,000 tons of peaches in 2018, the bulk of the nearly 652,000 tons grown nationwide.
The United States grows the most strawberries of any country in the world, producing 1.43 million tons last year. Most were grown in California, followed by Florida.
Hemp came to North America in 1606. The plant’s myriad uses led to its use as a staple crop: Farmers were actually legally bound to grow hemp throughout the 1700s. The plant needs no pesticides and little water, and its long roots help prevent erosion and retain topsoil. Several states, including Colorado, Kentucky, and Vermont, allow farmers once again to grow hemp crops.
The Dust Bowl lasted for about a decade and left hundreds of thousands of people destitute. It was caused by intense drought and negligent farming practices that left land susceptible to wind erosion.
Farming began around 10,000 B.C. when nomadic tribes started growing crops. Among the earliest crops were wheat, barley, peas, lentils, chickpeas, and flax. In the U.S. early settlers grew barley, peas, and maize, which native American tribes taught the settlers how to grow.
In 1954, the number of tractors on farms surpassed the number of horses and mules for the first time. Technology and the use of tractors over animals marked the Second American Agricultural Revolution.
English agricultural engineer Jethro Tull invented the seed drill in 1701. Before that, seeds were scattered by hand. Tull’s drill allowed seeds to be planted efficiently in rows and helped American agriculture flourish.
Some 40% of the world’s population works in agriculture, making it the largest employer on the planet. Farming in the United States directly employs more than 2.6 million people.
Goats were one of the first animals to be domesticated, and they are raised for their wool, milk, and meat. Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Kentucky have the most meat goats, while Texas, California, Wisconsin, Iowa, and New York have the largest dairy goat herds.
Organic farming typically requires 2.5 times more labor than conventional farming. But organic products typically command higher prices and produce 10 times more profit.
Community-supported agriculture, or CSA, was popular in the 1990s and early 2010s. With a CSA, a consumer subscribes to buy a farm’s produce directly, typically in weekly deliveries. But CSAs are declining as large grocery chains carry more organic food and online meal kit subscriptions have proliferated.
Nearly all U.S. farmers who sell at farmers' markets work within 50 miles of where they sell their produce. Farmers who supply supermarkets typically live 1,500 miles away. On average, farmers get about 17 cents of every dollar that store shoppers spend on food; those at farmers' markets take home more than 90% of food dollars.