One million acres of farmland basically vanished from the United States last year alone. Was it due to the weird weather, condo uberplexes, a blip in the space-time continuum? Nope, it’s something else entirely: the fundamental realities of farming.
Lead image: Minnesota farms from space / NASA Earth Observatory
A new federal report out this week pinned the loss of American farmland in 2015 over a million acres. In the same period, 18,000 farms disappeared. At the same time, huge farms are getting bigger and bigger — This is all part of a trend that’s been going on for at least the last eight years.
Image: Farm size vs. number of farms / NASS
It’s tempting to attribute it all to just how incredibly good at farming we’ve gotten. But while we’ve been seeing a visible increase in farm productivity for decades, the evaporation of farms and farmland has been happening rapidly over just a few short years. So, what’s going on? It all becomes a little clearer, when you look at a different set of charts from last year.
A farm has a less than 10 per cent chance of making money at all, which makes farming sound like a pretty bad bet, until you start breaking that number down by farm size. Only the large farms have a better than even chance of not losing money, and the larger the farm gets, the safer that venture becomes.
Farming is inherently risky business — but the bigger the farm, the safer the bet. We’re losing farmland — and gaining big farms at the same time — not because of quirks of the environment or the farm itself, but simply because of the economics of farming.