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Published March 18, 2013, 10:49 AM

Fewer family farms

The U.S. Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, illustrates the big decline in small farms.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

The U.S. Census of Agriculture, conducted every five years by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, illustrates the big decline in small farms.

North Dakota had about 10,300 farms of 220 to 999 acres in 2007, the last year for which results of the Ag Census are available.

The state had 13,800 farms of 220 to 999 acres in 1987 and 50,700 farms of that size in 1945.

In 1943, William and Alice Rahlf bought the farm now run by their four sons. For every five farms of 220 to 999 acres back then, North Dakota had only one farm of that size in 2007.

The same trend exists in South Dakota and Montana:

•South Dakota had about 9,700 farms of 220 to 999 acres in 2007. That was down from 15,300 farms of 220 to 999 acres in 1987 and 40,200 such farms in 1945.

•Minnesota had 24,400 farms of 220 to 999 acres in 2007. That was down from 35,500 farms of 220 to 999 acres in 1987 and 50,300 such farms in 1945.

Montana’s situation isn’t as clear-cut.

The state had about 6,500 farms of 220 to 999 acres in 2007. That was up from 5,600 farms of 220 to 999 acres in the 1987, but down from 13,650 such farms in 1945.

Eric Sommer, deputy director of the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s Montana field office, says he’s uncertain what caused the increase from 1987 to 2007.

But changes in reporting practices appear to be at least partly responsible. Sommer notes that the 2007 Census, for the first time in Montana, counted small farms that contain only pasture and small farms with only a handful of horses.

More information on current farm size in the Upper Midwest will be available after results of the 2012 Ag Census are tabulated and released.

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