11 Myths About Northeast Farming

8/5/2014

Farm Credit East, the Northeast's largest agricultural lender, has released a report that looks at 11 common misconceptions about agriculture that have been debunked by data from the recently released 2012 Census of Agriculture.

"This is a great time in Northeast agriculture, full of optimism and promise for the future," commented Jim Putnam, Farm Credit East executive vice president and author of the report. "While farming has never been an easy business, don't fall for misinformation that Northeast agriculture is on the decline."

This report specifically looks at census results for Farm Credit East's seven-state region (New York, New Jersey, Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island) to debunk the following 11 myths:
  1. The family farm is a dying tradition and agriculture is dominated by "corporate farmers." Wrong. Ninety-six percent of farms have "50 percent or more ownership interest held by an operator and/or persons related by blood, marriage or adoption."
  2. Farming is dominated by "factory farms." Wrong. Virtually all farms meet the Small Business Administration definition of a small business ($9 million or less of gross sales), and, according to the census, 99.7 percent of Northeast farms have less than $5 million in sales.
  3. Agriculture would be better if commercial farms had not grown so large. Wrong. Farmers aspire to the same standard of living as those in the nonfarm sector, including nice homes, college educations, family trips and a comfortable retirement. In order to maintain a decent standard of living, there is strong market pressure to grow.
  4. Farmers depend on government payments to earn a living. Wrong. In 2012, only about 19 percent of Northeast farmers received payments from the federal government at an average amount of just over $8,100.
  5. Family farming involves one family operating one farm. Wrong. Many full-time farms involve multiple families and generations farming together within one business unit.
  6. Most farmers are old. Wrong. The fine print in the census indicates that 57.6 is the average age of the "principal operator or senior operator." Commercial farms account for about 70 percent of Northeast farm production and most have multiple generations. These younger-generation farmers work alongside the principal operator as they transition into leadership roles, but because they are employees their ages are often not captured in census statistics.
  7. Too many senior farmers. Wrong. Senior farmers are a valued component of our farming community; often they're a major investor in their own family's farming operation and an important source of rented land to other farmers. This group is critical to financing their family's middle and younger generations for success.
  8. No one gets started in agriculture anymore. Wrong. Nearly one-fifth (19.5 percent) of today's farmers entered the industry within the past nine years, and there was an average of 1,248 new farmers per year over the most recent four years. In addition, the census only counts those who identified themselves as principal operators; therefore, younger employees in multigenerational commercial farm operations would add substantially to this number.
  9. Farming is a man's world, with few women farmers. Wrong. The census reports 16,348 female principal operators, or 23 percent of the total. In addition, this statistic may be understated, since spouses are often equal business partners, sharing substantial management responsibilities and ownership.
  10. Operating a small farm is a wonderful way to earn an easy living. Wrong. Most small farmers are motivated by reasons other than earning a living from farming. The census indicates that 35 percent of small farms operated in the black while 65 percent lost money in 2012. This means that the operator's standard of living, repayment of debt principal and/or investment in additional land or equipment came from nonfarm sources or healthy savings accounts.
  11. Farmers no longer own much of the land. Wrong. Northeast farmers own about 74 percent of the land on which they farm and rent the other 26 percent, of which about 4 percent is rented from other farmers and 22 percent from nonfarmers.
To view the full report, 11 Myths About Northeast Farming Busted by the 2012 Census of Agriculture, please visit FarmCreditEast.com.