Iowa shows growth in small farms

Bleeding Heartland user EltonDavis recently posted about his plans to start a community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm on land he is leasing.

Turns out he has plenty of company:

The U.S. Agriculture Department counted 92,856 farms in Iowa in 2007, up from 90,655 in 2002, the largest number since 1992. USDA conducts the census every five years.

The numbers suggest there could be a revival in small-scale agriculture. The number of farms reporting sales of $10,000 or less was up sharply in 2007.

Sally Worley, a spokeswoman for Practical Farmers of Iowa, said the increase reflects the growing demand for locally produced foods.

“Farmers are trying to start operations to meet that demand. We really have seen a change in the Iowa landscape of farming” with the comeback of small-scale operations, she said.

But Mike Duffy, an economist at Iowa State University, noted that the biggest increase is in very small operations, with less than $1,000 in annual sales.

There were 23,698 of those in 2007, up from 19,668. The USDA census takers may be finding small farms that were already there but not counted previously, he said.

The news is not all good. Medium-sized farms continue to disappear, and large farms with more than $1 million in sales account for a growing share of Iowa’s total agricultural production.

Still, I’m happy to see that small-scale farming is on the increase. Iowans love to buy locally-grown food; we have more farmers’ markets per capita than any other state.

For those who are interested in getting into small farming (not necessarily in Iowa), here’s a long list of educational opportunities in sustainable and organic agriculture.

Women should definitely check out the Women, Food and Agriculture Network (founded by Denise O’Brien).

My fellow Iowans may want to get involved in the Iowa Network for Community Agriculture and Practical Farmers of Iowa.

Note: Jill Richardson has posted much more analysis of the agriculture census at La Vida Locavore. Here is her summary of the data on very small farms of 1 to 9 acres, small farms of 10 to 49 acres, and large farms of 2,000 acres or more.

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