U.S. farm numbers continue to drift lower, dropping to 2.048 million according to a USDA survey conducted last June, only a shadow of their peak during the Depression. At the same time that the total falls, the portion of land operated by the biggest farms, the powerhouses with more than $1 million a year in sales, continues to grow, now covering a quarter of all farmland.
Billed as "the magazine of the American landowner, The Land Report says the largest 100 landowners in the nation acquired an additional 2 million acres during 2017, an area larger than Delaware. All told, the 100 largest private land holders own 40.2 million acres, equivalent to the land mass of the New England states with Vermont excluded, said the Washington Post.
The great majority farmers under the age of 35 hold a college degree, significantly higher than the U.S. average. It is a cohort that "is already contributing to the growth of the local-food movement and could help preserve the place of midsize farms in the rural landscape," says the Washington Post. It cites the 2012 Census of Agriculture as saying the number of farmers under the age of 35 is increasing for only the second time in a generation.
Congress has adjusted the enrollment cap on the Conservation Reserve, which pays landowners an annual rent to idle fragile land, in every farm bill since the program was created in 1985. With commodity prices in a trough, there are calls for a sizable increase in the reserve, a step that could affect wheat production far more than corn or soybeans according to a back-of-the-envelope estimate.
After a roundtable discussion with beginning farmers in Iowa, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said their chief concern is finding land so they can set up their operations. "The continued focus on the estate tax makes no sense to me," said Vilsack, referring to the idea, popular in the farm sector, of abolishing the estate tax.
The worldwide spike in food prices nearly a decade ago set off a land-buying surge by wealthy investors and nations wanting to shore up their food supply by acquiring cropland in developing nations. The surge was decried by critics as land grabs that would displace small farmers and herders. "The emerging new trend we wrote about in 2008 has continued and become worse," says the nonprofit Genetic Resources Action International (GRAIN).
Some members of New York City Council want to allocate $50 million from the city budget pay farmers to keep farming in Hudson Valley, reports The New York Times.
Nine of 10 New England farmers likely to retire in the coming two decades "are farming without a young farmer alongside them," raising questions about the future of many of the farms, says a study from American Farmland Trust and Land for Good.
Farmland Partners Inc. says it has closed on a previously announced purchase of 22,100 acres of farmland near Paris in east-central Illinois in a deal valued at $197 million.