Farm & Food Talk – Farm Types and Sizes

Posted: May 24, 2018

What type of farms do we need to feed the world?

America needs farms of all shapes and sizes to thrive. We need conventional, organic and all other types of farms to meet consumer needs. Organic farming can continue to develop sustainable practices that can be adopted more widely. At the same time, conventional practices are necessary to improve productivity to feed everyone.

When some people think of big farms, they immediately believe they are “factory farms.” Often, large farms and ranches are deploying the most innovative processes in sustainability and animal welfare because they have the resources to do so. Large farms create economies of scale that can keep prices low.

What is the difference between small and large farms?

For the most part, farm sizes are based on income and number of acres farmed. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the types of farms in the U.S. can be grouped into two categories:

Small Family Farms (sales less than $250,000)

  • Residential/lifestyle farms – Small farms whose operators report a major occupation other than farming (excludes limited resource farms).
  • Limited-resource farms – Any small farm with gross sales less than $100,000, total farm assets less than $150,000 and total operator household income less than $20,000.
  • Farming occupation/lower-sales farms – Small farms with sales less than $100,000 whose operators report farming as their major occupation (excludes limited-resource farms whose operators report farming as their major occupation).
  • Farming occupation/higher-sales farms – Small farms with sales between $100,000 and $249,000 whose operators report farming as their major occupation.

Large Farms(sales more than $250,000)

  • Large family farms – Farms with sales between $250,000 and $499,999.
  • Very large family farms – Farms with sales of $500,000 or more.
  • Non-family farms – Farms organized as non-family corporations or cooperatives, as well as farms operated by hired managers.

According to the USDA 2012 Census of Agriculture, 97 percent of farms are family farms.

The average size farm in DeKalb County is 1,309 acres.


Sources: Food Dialogues, USDA,
American Farm Bureau, DeKalb County
Farm Business Farm Management