Farmers Who Don't Farm: The Curious Rise of the Zero-Sales Farmer

Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 2017

9 Pages Posted: 5 Jun 2018

See all articles by Nathan Rosenberg

Nathan Rosenberg

Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic; University of Arkansas School of Law

Date Written: October 26, 2017

Abstract

While researchers have extensively studied the growth in the number of small farms reported in the Census of Agriculture between 1982 and 2012, there has been little discussion of trends in farm operators who do not sell any agricultural products. Using previously unreleased Census of Agriculture data collected between 1982 and 2012, this research brief empirically examines these “zero-sales farmers” for the first time. There was a large increase in the number of zero-sales farmers from 104,000 in 1982 to 466,000 in 2012, as well as a remarkable rise in their share of the farming population, which went from 5% in 1982 to 22% in 2012. Female and minority farmers were disproportionately likely to be zero-sales operators: 30% or more of female, Native American, and black farmers reported no sales in 2012. Older and beginning farmers were also more likely to report zero sales in 2012 than younger and experienced ones, respectively. Zero-sales farmers dramatically influenced recent census results on farm income, farm size, and operator age, among other results, due to their substantial share of the overall population. In order to effectively utilize Census of Agriculture data, practitioners, policymakers, and researchers should include zero-sales farms in their analyses. There are several steps the United States Department of Agriculture can take to make information about zero-sales farmers more readily available and widely understood.

Keywords: Agriculture; Census; Census of Agriculture; Farmers; Women Farmers; Beginning Farmers; Black Farmers; Small Farms; Hobby Farms; Zero Sales

Suggested Citation

Rosenberg, Nathan, Farmers Who Don't Farm: The Curious Rise of the Zero-Sales Farmer (October 26, 2017). Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3104703

Nathan Rosenberg (Contact Author)

Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic ( email )

122 Boylston St
Boston, MA 02130
United States

University of Arkansas School of Law ( email )

260 Waterman Hall
Fayetteville, AR 72701
United States

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