I grew up in a small farm town in Kansas. So I was pleased to see that the U.S. Department of Agriculture's recently released 2007 census shows that, after decades of decline, the number of farms is growing.
The 2007 farm census counted 2,204,792 U.S. farms, an increase of 75,810 over 2002. The census also shows that more than 300,000 new farms have started operation since 2002. These new farms tend to be smaller and operated by younger farmers than existing farms.
The census results show that the majority of U.S. farms are small, and many are part-time and hobby businesses. More than 36 percent of all farms are classified as residential/lifestyle farms with the farm operators listing a primary occupation other than farming. An additional 21 percent are retirement farms, with farm operators reporting that they are retired.
And 60 percent of all farms generate less than $10,000 in revenue per year.
A number of trends are driving the growth of the small farms. New technology and farming techniques make small farms more viable. Restaurant and consumer demand for farm-fresh and organic food has increased demand for small-farm output, as has heightened concern about food safety.
Marketing farm products also has become much easier. The Internet has greatly increased direct-to-consumer farm sales. And the number of farmers' markets continues to grow. There are more than 4,500 farmers' markets today, versus fewer than 400 in 1970.
With increasing food demand from a growing global middle class, small-farm opportunities will continue to grow in the coming years.
Steve King is a partner at Emergent Research, where he leads an ongoing research project to identify, analyze, and forecast the global trends and shifts affe cting small business. He blogs at www.smallbizlabs.com.