People may wax rhapsodic about the virtues of the small-scale farm, but that is not the direction farming is heading in: Farms are getting fewer in number and larger in size across the board, and that’s only going to continue—and there’s one reason why.

That reason is neatly summed up in this little chart from the USDA’s Economic Research Service, showing how likely farms of different sizes are to be making any money at all. Farming, in general, is a risky proposition. But the farmers who are getting the very worst of the deal are the ones whose farms are on the smaller scale. In fact, the smaller the farm the more likely it is that not only is it not generating new income for the farmer, it also may be swallowing income that they’re pouring into it from other sources, such as a second job.

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A bigger farm isn’t just slightly safer, it’s the difference between being likely to fail and likely to succeed. With the safety all on the side of numbers, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing more farmers just getting out of the game altogether or getting bigger to try and survive.

Top image: Nicholas A. Tonelli.

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