The Real Reason A Million Acres Of America’s Farmland Disappeared Last Year

The Real Reason A Million Acres Of America’s Farmland Disappeared Last Year

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.

Farm size vs. number of farms / NASS

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.