States that have lost the most farms the last 100 years
Farms provide us with fresh and safe food, jobs, and agricultural trade. Despite this, the number of American farms decreased by half during the 1950s and 1960s, while farm size doubled. The effects were felt in some regions of the U.S. more than others.
Stacker compiled a list comparing agriculture in each state over the last 100 years using data from the 1920 Agriculture Census and most recent data as of Oct. 7, 2020 from the 2019 Census State Agriculture Summaries. States are ranked from those that gained the highest percentage of farms to those that lost the most.
The question is, why have the number of farms been decreasing? The introduction of technology that replaced horse-drawn plows proved both good and bad for farmers. While it allowed them to plow more land in less time, they basically plowed themselves, and those with small- to mid-sized farms, out of a sustainable living.
Those who were able to afford a large farm, and the technology that went along with it, flourished, while many farmers with small- to mid-sized operations were forced to sell or lease their farmland to larger operations. In 1973, President Nixon’s agriculture secretary Earl Butz told farmers to “get big, or get out,” encouraging producers to plant as much as possible on all the land they had.
In the 1980s, farmers were hit with another blow—the farm crisis. In the Federal Reserve’s attempt to bring down high interest rates, farmland values plummeted. At the same time, commodity prices fell due to overproduction. Farm debts rose and foreclosures ran rampant.
Meanwhile, urban development was picking up steam across the country, with millions of acres of farmland transitioning into low-density residential neighborhoods. Urban development, coupled with expanding technology, are just two of the reasons we continue to see the number of farms go down while the size of farms goes up.
Increasingly, farmers who are reaching retirement age also wrestle with the decision between handing down a farm to children or selling the land. If the farm isn’t profitable enough to hand down, they’ll often sell to a larger, neighboring producer.
It’s not all bad news for the farm industry. Smaller farms and micro-farms run by younger producers, while a small portion of the industry, continue to enter farming in increasing numbers. Many of them are especially interested in integrating new technology, agritourism, and organic farming techniques.
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- Number of farms: 364
- Average farm size: 249 acres
- Total farm acres: 0.1 million
- Number of farms: 1,050 (+188.5% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 810 acres (+225.2% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 0.9 million (+837.7% from 1920)
Farming in Alaska has kicked into high gear due to climate change. As Alaska continues to warm at double the rate of the rest of the globe, growing seasons are stretching, and access to imported goods is becoming more limited. It’s now possible to grow crops such as corn and cherries, and the region’s extended daylight hours help make vegetables larger and sweeter.
- Number of farms: 9,975
- Average farm size: 582 acres
- Total farm acres: 5.8 million
- Number of farms: 19,000 (+90.5% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 1,379 acres (+137.1% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 26.2 million (+351.6% from 1920)
A diverse climate allows farmers in Arizona to harvest year round. Some farmers are able to grow different crops on the same land at different times of the year, thanks to forgiving weather and soil. In 2018, the Senate passed a bill allowing qualified applicants to grow and process industrial hemp on Arizona farms.
- Number of farms: 5,284
- Average farm size: 511 acres
- Total farm acres: 2.7 million
- Number of farms: 7,300 (+38.2% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 151 acres (-70.5% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 1.1 million (-59.3% from 1920)
While some large Hawaiian farms have been sold in recent years, small farms are becoming more popular in Hawaii. The closure of large farms has also meant less farmworkers. The average age of farmers seems to be trending older, alongside an influx of younger farmers, which points to a growing interest in farming in the state.
- Number of farms: 3,163
- Average farm size: 748 acres
- Total farm acres: 2.4 million
- Number of farms: 3,350 (+5.9% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 1,821 acres (+143.3% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 6.1 million (+157.7% from 1920)
Drive past the casinos and you’ll find that Nevada has a thriving farming business. Cattle, sheep, and lamb are big in Nevada, with the agricultural crops—wheat and hay—designed to support the livestock. In recent years, farmers in Nevada have brought their added-value goods, such as bread and cheese, directly to the consumer, helping the business grow.
- Number of farms: 54,005
- Average farm size: 112 acres
- Total farm acres: 6.0 million
- Number of farms: 47,400 (-12.2% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 205 acres (+83.1% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 9.7 million (+60.4% from 1920)
While imports from Mexico have been shown to negatively impact Florida's economy, the average farm size and total acreage are increasing in the Sunshine State. There are many crops to grow in Florida outside of oranges, namely sugar, corn, cucumbers, and flowers.
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#45. New Mexico
- Number of farms: 29,844
- Average farm size: 818 acres
- Total farm acres: 24.4 million
- Number of farms: 24,800 (-16.9% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 1,613 acres (+97.2% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 40.0 million (+63.9% from 1920)
The number of minority and young farmers has been increasing in New Mexico over the past decade. With increasing growth, traditions and culture are still respected, while innovation is wholeheartedly embraced. Farmers throughout New Mexico now sell value-added specialty foods worldwide.
- Number of farms: 15,748
- Average farm size: 750 acres
- Total farm acres: 11.8 million
- Number of farms: 12,000 (-23.8% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 2,417 acres (+222.3% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 29.0 million (+145.6% from 1920)
Wyoming boasts some of the largest farms in the country. Data shows that young Wyoming producers, aged 35 and under, have larger farms and earn more. Another big change is that 80% of the farms in Wyoming also have internet access.
- Number of farms: 50,206
- Average farm size: 270 acres
- Total farm acres: 13.5 million
- Number of farms: 37,200 (-25.9% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 425 acres (+57.6% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 15.8 million (+16.7% from 1920)
Small farms (less than 10 acres) are the fastest growing type in the state of Oregon. While the average farm size is 425 acres, half of all farms in the state are less than 20 acres in size.
- Number of farms: 25,662
- Average farm size: 197 acres
- Total farm acres: 5.1 million
- Number of farms: 17,800 (-30.6% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 601 acres (+205.4% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 10.7 million (+111.9% from 1920)
The number of farms in Utah has decreased as farms have fallen prey to development over the years. Acreage has increased as many farmers moved locations, stopped growing fruits and vegetables, and focused on producing grains and proteins.
- Number of farms: 59,931
- Average farm size: 408 acres
- Total farm acres: 24.5 million
- Number of farms: 38,700 (-35.4% from 1920)
- Average farm size: 822 acres (+101.4% from 1920)
- Total farm acres: 31.8 million (+30.0% from 1920)
Since the passing of the 2018 federal Farm Bill legalizing the growing of industrial hemp, the crop is now grown on more than 86,000 acres throughout Colorado. With 75% of the state’s farmland dedicated to raising cattle, a larger farm size can support business growth.
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