Number of Farms, and Farmers per Congressional District- Farm Bill Implications

Todd Kuethe and Jonathan Coppess, from the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois, indicated in a farmdoc daily blog update yesterday (“Mapping the Farm Bill: Farm and Farm Operators“)  that, “In previous articles, we explored the political footprints for the major commodities that form the coalition that drives the development of U.S. farm policy (see, farmdoc daily August 11, 2016 and August 25, 2016). In this article, we add further perspective on farm policy and politics by examining the number of farms and farm operators within the overall footprint for the traditional farm coalition of corn, cotton, and wheat.

“The Census of Agriculture is a national account of all U.S. farms, ranches, and operators conducted by USDA. The Census is taken every five years and provides valuable information on land use and ownership, operator characteristics, production practices, income, and expenditures. For many pieces of information on the farm sector and the rural economy, the Census serves as the only source of detailed locational information, such as county and Congressional district level estimates. The most recent Census of Agriculture was conducted in 2012.

“According to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the United States is home to 2,109,303 farms.  The Census defines a farm as any place from which $1,000 or more of agricultural products were produced and sold, or normally would have been sold, in the reference year. The distribution of farms across Congressional districts (114th Congress) is shown in Figure 1. As expected, farms are heavily concentrated in the Great Plains, Midwest, and Mississippi Delta regions.”

Figure 1

Kuethe and Coppess added that, “The number of farms, however, is only one part of the picture for the farm coalition. Each farm recorded in the Census likely impacts the livelihood of several individuals. All of politics eventually boils down to votes and voters; therefore, a fuller picture of the political strength of the farm coalition requires an indication of the potential voters in the footprint. Accordingly, we examine the distribution of farm operators by Congressional district as a measure of potential votes in Figure 2.”

Figure 2

Yesterday’s farmdoc daily update concluded by stating that, “Mapping the number of farms and farm operators adds perspective to the political footprint of the traditional farm coalition. Nearly two-thirds of farms and operators in the U.S. are located within the major producing counties and Congressional districts that make up that footprint. This helps highlight the importance of farm policy to the Members of Congress representing those districts, as well as the relative importance of those districts to farm policy. The number of farms provides an indication of the economic importance of farming to the Congressional district, while the number of operators provides an indication of the political importance of farming to it. This understanding could be enhanced further by comparing this information to other data for those districts, such as other economic drivers, total number of voters and the percentage of total voters.”

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