All in the family, or All in the Inc?: Census data reveals farm operation numbers

Wednesday, June 25, 2014
(Rachel Knight/Missouri Farms)

When it comes to who operates farms in the Missouri Farms region, is it more family or corporate? In this region a majority of farms are family or individually operated. According to the United States Department of Agriculture-National Agricultural Statistics Service, a farm is 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.

Every five years USDA-NASS conducts a survey of agriculture operations across the country, with the most recent occurring in 2012. It looks at data points such as market value of products, inventory and sales of products, race and sex breakdowns of operators and the number and type of operations.

USDA-NASS looked at four operational legal statuses for farms ― family or individual; partnership; corporation, which includes family held and other than family held; and other, which includes cooperatives, estates or trusts, institutions or research facilities or reservations.

According to the 2012 data approximately 86 percent of operations in the region were family or individual; approximately 7 percent partnerships; approximately 5 percent corporations; and approximately 3 percent other.

Does having more family operations than corporate affect market values?

"Market values ... are determined by world-wide supply and demand forces," said Whitney Wiegel, Lafayette County-Extension director. "Farm ownership structure has very little to do with the prices farmers receive."

He added areas with large numbers of producers helps hold prices down because of greater competition between the producers than in cases where there are a limited number of producers.

Statewide there are 3,099 corporate operations. A majority of these corporations ― 88 percent ― are family held with less than 10 stockholders.

Does this mean that family-operated or -owned farms are better than corporate farms? It depends on who is asked, since the topic of what's better is subjective. There's no quantifiable data to back up one versus the other. Extension offices most often work with family farms, but that's not because of bias, said Wiegel.

"Extension agents work primarily with family farmers ... because most farmers are family farmers and we serve a population that is consistent with the demographic make-up of the farm population," he said.

Farms in the region also organize in two different ways, with the lion's share organized through families. In Lafayette and Saline counties, 2,037 farms are organized where more than 50 percent of the interest is held by the operator and/or persons related to the operator by blood, marriage or adoption. Sixty-five are organized as Limited Liability Corporations. Ownership breakdowns of farms also skew to full owners rather than part owners or tenants.

To find the results of the 2012 census visit www.agcensus.usda.gov/Publications/2012/

Editors note: Due the the nature of census responses being private, some data points are withheld. It is withheld in cases where there is a minimal amount of operators ― one to two ― in a specific field, or a farm has an operation where it is the majority producer, according to Bob Garino, of the Missouri Field Office and state statistician for USDA-NASS. It is done to avoid disclosing data about an individual farm or operation.

The information obtained from the census is a general overview of operations across the country. The census also focuses on county-wide data, which is viewable on the website. The data for this article came from Table 45 ― Selected Operation and Operator Characteristics: 2012 and 2007.