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American Farms Keep Growing: Size, Productivity, and Policy

  • Daniel A. Sumner

Commercial agriculture in the United States is comprised of several hundred thousand farms, and these farms continue to become larger and fewer. The size of commercial farms is sometimes best-measured by sales, in other cases by acreage, and in still other cases by quantity produced of specific commodities, but for many commodities, size has doubled and doubled again in a generation. This article summarizes the economics of commercial agriculture in the United States, focusing on growth in farm size and other changes in size distribution in recent decades. I also consider the relationships between farm size distributions and farm productivity growth and farm subsidy policy.

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File URL: http://www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jep.28.1.147
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Article provided by American Economic Association in its journal Journal of Economic Perspectives.

Volume (Year): 28 (2014)
Issue (Month): 1 (Winter)
Pages: 147-66

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Handle: RePEc:aea:jecper:v:28:y:2014:i:1:p:147-66
Note: DOI: 10.1257/jep.28.1.147
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  1. Barrett E. Kirwan & Shinsuke Uchida & T. Kirk White, 2012. "Aggregate and Farm-Level Productivity Growth in Tobacco: Before and After the Quota Buyout," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 94(4), pages 838-853.
  2. Evans, David S., 1986. "Tests of Alternative Theories of Firm Growth," Working Papers 86-36, C.V. Starr Center for Applied Economics, New York University.
  3. Joseph W. Glauber, 2013. "The Growth Of The Federal Crop Insurance Program, 1990--2011," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 95(2), pages 482-488.
  4. White, T. Kirk & Hoppe, Robert A., 2012. "Changing Farm Structure and the Distribution of Farm Payments and Federal Crop Insurance," Economic Information Bulletin 120309, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  5. Jeremy D. Foltz, 2004. "Entry, Exit, and Farm Size: Assessing an Experiment in Dairy Price Policy," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 86(3), pages 594-604.
  6. Cabral, Luís M B & Mata, José, 2001. "On the Evolution of the Firm Size Distribution: Facts and Theory," CEPR Discussion Papers 3045, C.E.P.R. Discussion Papers.
  7. Key, Nigel D. & Roberts, Michael J., 2007. "Commodity Payments, Farm Business Survival, and Farm Size Growth," Economic Research Report 55968, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  8. Michael J. Roberts & Nigel Key, 2008. "Agricultural Payments and Land Concentration: A Semiparametric Spatial Regression Analysis," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 90(3), pages 627-643.
  9. Christopher A. Wolf & Daniel A. Sumner, 2001. "Are Farm Size Distributions Bimodal? Evidence from Kernel Density Estimates of Dairy Farm Size Distributions," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 83(1), pages 77-88.
  10. Dimitri, Carolyn & Effland, Anne & Conklin, Neilson C., 2005. "The 20th Century Transformation of U.S. Agriculture and Farm Policy," Economic Information Bulletin 59390, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  11. Roberto Mosheim & C.A. Knox Lovell, 2007. "Scale Economies and Inefficiency of U.S. Dairy Farms," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 91(3), pages 777-794.
  12. Brown, Jason P. & Weber, Jeremy, 2013. "The Off-Farm Occupations of U.S. Farm Operators and Their Spouses," Economic Information Bulletin 156535, United States Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service.
  13. Gardner, Bruce L, 1992. "Changing Economic Perspectives on the Farm Problem," Journal of Economic Literature, American Economic Association, vol. 30(1), pages 62-101, March.
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