Agriculture Facts about the United States: Changes in Farms, Organic Farming, and Locally-Grown Produce

Agriculture Facts about the United States: Changes in Farms, Organic Farming, and Locally-Grown Produce
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Farm Size and Number

The agriculture industry has seen profound changes in the marketplace that have influenced how it has evolved in response to these trends. From changes in the farms themselves to how they market, agriculture has strived to stay current with consumer needs and wants.

One of the most glaring changes is in the size and number of farms. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), there were 3.1 million farms in 1964. In 2007, the number of farms dipped to 2.2 million farms. In 1992, the average size was 491 acres. Today, it is 418 acres.

While the trend has been a decline in the number of farms, this has changed in recent years with new farms which are smaller, tapping into other market trends. Farmers themselves have also evolved. New farm owners are more likely to have other sources of non-farming income.

Organic Farming

Another trend in agriculture facts about the United States is the move toward reducing the environmental impact of farming. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that organic farming has been practiced since the 1940s. What has changed is that the public has embraced the philosophy of not using synthetic pesticides, fertilizers, and hormones. Organic products are perceived as safer or more nutritious. This has led to rapid growth within this industry.

In 2008, the USDA reported that there were 14,500 organic farms in the United States. Livestock and vegetable production accounted for over one-half of the $3.16 billion sales. Organic farming embraces the fact that agriculture should minimize its impact on the environment. This change in ideology is revealed through moves toward following integrated pest management practices and use of biopesticides and pest-resistant species.

This shift in farming practices is welcome in light of the impacts which agriculture has had on the environment. The EPA identified agricultural runoff as the leading cause of water pollution in the United States. Many of the pesticides used in conventional farming are now monitored by the EPA as part of the drinking water standards.

Buy Local

Another significant change is the practice of buying local. More and more, grocery stores are embracing the value of locally-grown produce. Stores pitch the idea as one to help the local community. The proximity of farming operations means lower fuel costs and thus, a reduction in fossil fuel emissions.

According to a 2009 Harris Interactive survey, nearly 40 percent of respondents reported purchasing locally-grown produce as a way to go green and reduce their carbon footprint. When reviewing agriculture facts about the United States, it is clear that consumers are considering not only the nutritional value of their food, but how it affects the environment.

Profound changes in the agricultural industry in the last 50 years demonstrate the shift from viewing farming as simply a way to produce food to an industry with a responsibility to consumers and the environment. As the world’s population continues to grow, these trends will pave the way for less environment harm.

Photo by Stephen Davies


Harris Interactive: How Green Are We? Putting Our Money (and Behavior) Where Our Mouth Is -

U.S. Department of Agriculture: 2007 Census of Agriculture – 2008 Organic Production Survey

U.S. Department of Agriculture: 2007 Census of Agriculture – Farm Numbers -