GRAPHIC: For family farms, most income comes from far afield

Off-farm income contributed an average of 82% of total income for family farms in 2019, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture analysis.  

Almost all farm households in 2019 derived some income from off-farm sources, such as pensions, investment income, or wages and salary from an off-farm job. But small family farms — defined in this instance as having income less than $350,000 — depended on it the most. About half of U.S. farms, according to the USDA, are considered very small, with annual farm sales under $10,000. Small-scale operators of these farms tend to rely on off-farm sources for most of their household income. 

In small “off-farm occupation” farms, where the operator reports a main occupation that’s not farming, off-farm sources of income in 2019 made up 84% of all earnings. In contrast, “very large” farms, with an annual gross cash farm income of $5 million or more, earned only 7% of their total income from off-farm sources in 2019. 

Amanda Perez Pintado is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

GRAPHIC: Big commercial farms got 10x more government assistance than family farms

The federal government subsidized commercial farms much more than family farms in 2019, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. 

In 2019, commercial farms, which means they gross more than $350,000 annually, received an average of about $85,000 from the government. On the other hand are residence farms that have less income; the owner is either retired or makes a living working another job besides farming. These farms received an average of about $8,000, according to the USDA. After the Trump administration started its trade wars, it paid billions to farmers. The payments propped up farmers’ income at a time when many were hurting financially, according to a report from the University of Illinois’ Farmdoc Daily.

#AgAlerts: Sugar shortage; small farmers; wheat’s falling numbers

The closing days of 2019 find small farms pummeled from every side: a trade war, severe weather associated with climate change, tanking commodity prices related to globalization and political polarization. It is the worst crisis in decades.