We all know what a farm is, so What?

There are lots of ways to grow crops and livestock.  There are farms that are very profitable and farms that are more of a heritage or lifestyle than a business.  Why does it matter if we are all talking about the same kind of farm.

In the paper, US Farms Define the American Dream, I wrote as an example for my agribusiness students I identify a US farm as 1) a business, 2) a lifestyle, and 3) a sacred institution.

venn diagram of farm businesses, lifestyles and sacred callings

Of course, they can be all three.  But it gets a bit dicey in public policy work (laws, regulations, and support programs) if the object of the policy, US farms, has no uniformity to it at all.

A commonly used definition of a farm is the one referred to in the above paper found in the Appendix of the USDA Census of Agriculture,“any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, during the census year.”

Essentially, if you produce goods or services that have a value of $1,000 per year, USDA will likely identify your operation as a farm.  The smallest category in the June 18 post was $350,000 of gross cash farm income.  There is a large jump between $1,000 per year and $350,000 per year.

The USDA took over administration of the Census of Agriculture from The Commerce Department about 20 years ago, because the Census Bureau of the US Department of Commerce, announced they would raise the definition of a US farm from $1,000 per year to $10,000 per year.  With that proposed change, most of the US farms would disappear.  The policy support for small farms became very clear.  So USDA took over the administration of the Census of Agriculture.

I had the privilege of sitting on USDA’s agricultural statistics advisory committee for nearly 10 years (half with the Dept. of Commerce and half with the Dept. of Agriculture).

Legal definitions of business entities, like farms, determine who gets counted and who does not.