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family farms

Family Farm Co-op in Missouri Shows Commitment to Food Safety

For more than four generations, Amish farmers in the Kansas City area have abided by a simple tenet:  farm sustainably and care for the earth to preserve their way of life for future generations.  Good Natured Family Farms (GNFF), a cooperative of 18 Amish family farms in Missouri, is using GroupGAP, a new USDA audit program, to help them safeguard their future by building strong markets for the high-quality, local foods they produce. In August, the group made USDA history as the first to receive an official USDA Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) certification through our new GroupGAP program.

Since 2002, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has provided the traditional USDA GAP audit program to the fruit and vegetable industry. GAP is a voluntary program that verifies its participants follow U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines and industry best practices to minimize risks of food safety hazards when producing, handling, and storing fruits, vegetables, and other specialty crops. In 2016, AMS conducted nearly 4,000 traditional GAP audits.

Loan Applications Continue at USDA Farm Service Agency

What do siblings Kenna and Peyton Krahulik, organic farmers Lily Schneider and Matt McCue, and livestock producer Brian Morgan have in common? They worked closely with USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to obtain loans, giving them the working capital they needed to grow or maintain their operation.

FSA makes and guarantees loans to family farmers and ranchers to promote, build and sustain family farms in support of a thriving agricultural economy. It’s an important credit safety net that has sustained our nation’s hard working farm families through good and bad times.

USDA's Commitment to Develop Food and Agricultural Workforce of the Future

Nearly 99% of farms in the United States are family operated, and they account for roughly 90% of agricultural production. With statistics like these, it’s not surprising that many people associate jobs in agriculture with small-town America, farmers and tractors, and corn fields and cattle.

While the importance of farmers cannot be overstated, the diversity of careers available in the agricultural sector is staggering and often underappreciated. According to a 2013 study funded by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), an average of 57,900 jobs will open every year from 2015 to 2020 and require a bachelor’s degree or higher in food, agriculture, natural resources, or environmental studies. These jobs will include a range of sectors, including management and business; science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM); food and biomaterials production; and education, communication, and government services.  Strikingly, it is also expected that 39% of positions will go unfilled.

America's Diverse Family Farms

Describing the structure of the U.S. farm sector is challenging because farms vary widely in size and other characteristics.  Are they largely family businesses, or corporate operations?  U.S. farms range from very small retirement and residential holdings to businesses with sales in the millions of dollars.

To better understand U.S. agriculture, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) recently released America’s Diverse Family Farms.  The report categorizes farms into homogenous groupings based on the annual revenue of the farm, primary occupation of the principal operator, and family/nonfamily ownership of the farm.

Family Farms Remain the Cornerstone of U.S. Agriculture

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

As you can imagine, Census of Agriculture is a virtual data gold mine for an agricultural demographer. And as we celebrate U.S. agriculture this week, with the help of the Census data we can focus on the key element of our nation’s agriculture – family farms.

Of the 2.1 million farms in the United States in 2012, 97 percent were family-owned operations. Eighty-eight percent of all farms were small family farms. This group included farms such as retirement farms, farms with operators working part-time off-farm, as well as farms with less than $350,000 in gross cash farm income.

U.S. Farms, Large and Small

This post is part of the Science Tuesday feature series on the USDA blog. Check back each week as we showcase stories and news from USDA’s rich science and research portfolio.

Describing the structure of the U.S. farm sector is challenging, because farms vary widely in size and other characteristics.  Are they largely family businesses, or corporate operations?  U.S. farms range from very small retirement and residential holdings to businesses with sales in the millions of dollars. And descriptions based on U.S. averages hide much of the variation.

The Economic Research Service prepares periodic reports on family farms that provide detailed information for policy makers and others interested in farm policy and the farm sector.  The reports draw on data from a scientifically designed USDA survey, the Agricultural Resource Management Survey, or ARMS.  The survey, conducted annually, covers all types of farms, and is designed to accurately represent farms and farm households, including financial conditions and production practices.

Creating New Opportunities for the Sheep Industry

Since they were brought over during the earliest explorations of North America, the sheep industry has played a vital role in the agricultural history of our nation.  In the 1940s, there were over 55 million sheep in the U.S., but today those numbers hover around one-tenth of that total.  There are about 80,000 sheep ranchers across the U.S., and, with support from the 2014 Farm Bill, they will have additional resources to help develop innovative approaches to address their long-term needs.

Consolidation of the U.S. sheep packing industry, higher feed and energy costs, loss of animals to predators and lower lamb consumption, along with competition from imported of lamb cuts, have taken their toll on U.S. sheep producers.  In response to industry needs, USDA is committed to working with our stakeholders to ensure the long-term viability of the sheep industry.

The Easy Way to Find Local Food - USDA Launches New Local Food Directories

What a great time of year to visit your local farmers market! From root crops such as beets, carrots and radishes to salad greens like Swiss chard, lettuce and spinach—farmers markets are full of fresh ingredients that you can use in your favorite fall recipes. My agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, maintains the USDA's National Farmers Market Directory, where you can search for local markets and discover where to get your squashes, pumpkins, pears and apples. There are over 8,200 farmers markets listed with their locations, operating hours and other details, providing a simple and easy way for consumers and producers around the country to find each other.

Local and regional food systems, including farmers markets, are one of USDA's four key pillars to revitalize rural economies and improve access to fresh, healthy food for millions of Americans. Last month, I announced that AMS was building three new local food directories for food hubs, community-supported agriculture operations and on-farm markets. I asked local food enterprises to go online and list the details of their businesses in the new directories—and they responded!

Celebrating Farmers and Communities during National Farmers Market Week

We just wrapped up the 15th annual National Farmers Market Week here at USDA. It has been an AMAZING week filled with celebrations at farmers markets across the country.  Last Friday, at our own USDA Farmers Market, we hosted hundreds of youths to introduce them to healthy back-to-school snacks; and we even had a special guest appearance from our old friend Smokey Bear (who turned 70 years old on Saturday).

Every year, the first full week of August is our opportunity to highlight the country’s thousands of farmers markets, the farmers and ranchers who make them possible, and the communities that host them.  Farmers markets and, more broadly, local and regional food systems, are one of the four key pillars that USDA is focusing on in order to encourage rural economic development and improve the quality of life for rural Americans.

Keeping #AgStrong

The strength of America’s farmers and ranchers is undeniable. I knew that strength firsthand growing up in a rural community that depended on agriculture. And I see it in so many ways as I meet folks from across the country in my role at USDA—in their work ethic, in their dedication to their crops and animals, and in their commitment to feed their communities and the world. They are all #AgStrong—an old truth in a new format, celebrating the common agricultural roots among farmer and rancher, family business and rural community.

Through these commonalities, many family-owned farms find strength in numbers, in pooling resources and expertise to grow and sustain their family businesses.  For many of them, ag boards—with oversight from USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS)—are vital to their success, increasing business opportunities and mapping out a long-term future for their industry.