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Montana sees slight increase in small farms and ranches

Posted at 6:28 AM, Mar 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-15 10:17:01-04

In 2020, the U.S. lost 4,400 farms and ranches totally 2,019,000 when compared to 2019. A year-over-year trend that has occurred for decades. Those figures come from the latest Farms and Land in Farms Highlights report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The losses were heaviest in the nation’s largest farming regions, namely California and the Midwest. On the other hand, small Increases were noted in Montana, Colorado, Alabama and Florida.

Montana saw an increase of 100 farms or ranches to bring the 2020 total to 26,900.

Eric Sommer, Montana’s State Statistics for USDA’s National Ag Statistics Service, explained how the increase came about.

“The recent Farm and Land Survey showed Montana had a slight increase in the $1000 to $9,999 income level,” said Sommer.

That is the lowest income bracket USDSA considers when counting total farms and ranches. One factor for the increase in the number farms and ranches comes from the subdividing of land. Each year more landowners and developers are selling agricultural land that is dissected into smaller ranchettes, subdivisions or other projects.

“When you go to larger cities like Billings, Bozeman, Missoula or Helena, you're seeing operators sell off a portion of their property because land values are just so high around these cities,” said Sommer. “And they're putting the land into 5, 10, 20-acre ranchettes.”

Even with small ranchettes, if the landowners can produce at least $1,000 in agricultural income, whether that be through production agriculture or leasing their land for production, USDA includes them as an agricultural business.

“These operations, while they're traditionally not an ag production operation, they may have horses, one or two head of cattle, a couple sheep or hogs,” said Sommer. “They do count as long as they meet that $1000 a year income and/or potential to make $1000 to be counted as an ag business.”

For Montana, USDA’s full report shows that the income category of $1,000-9,999 there was an increase of 100 farms that total 11,500. While all other income categories remained unchanged in 2020 from 2019.

· $10,000-99,999 steady at 8,100 farms/ranches.

· $10,000-99,999 steady at 8,100 farms/ranches.

· $100,000-249,999 steady 3150 farms/ranches.

· $250,000-499,999 steady 2250 farms/ranches.

· $500,000-999,999 steady 1250 farms/ranches.

· $1,000,000 or more steady 650 farms/ranches.

More USDA data from the report highlights that:

The number of all farms/ranches across the U.S. in all sales classes declined. In 2020, 51.1 percent of all farms had less than $10,000 in sales and 81.5 percent of all farms had less than $100,000 in sales.

In 2020, 7.4 percent of all farms had sales of $500,000 or more. Total land in farms, at 896,600,000 acres, decreased 800,000 acres from 2019.

The biggest change for 2020 is that producers in Sales Class $10,000 - $99,999 operated 550,000 fewer acres than in 2019.

In 2020, 30.1 percent of all farmland was operated by farms with less than $100,000 in sales, while 40.8 percent of all farmland was operated by farms with sales of $500,000 or more.

The average farm size for 2020 is 444 acres, unchanged from the previous year. Average farm size increased in the $250,000 - $499,999, $500,000-$999,999, and $1,000,000 or more sales classes and remained unchanged in all others. The full report can be found here: