NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Who Is Down On The Hobby Farm?

September 3, 1999

The 1997 Census of Agriculture says there are 1,911,824 farms in the U.S., of which 685,029 receive federal monies, yielding an average subsidy of $24,233 per farm. Subsidized farmers include some large profitable operations and small hobby farms, according to the 20th Annual Family Farm Report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service.

  • "Large Family Farms" -- farms with gross sales greater than $500,000 -- produce an average household income of about $118,450 per year and have a net worth of $925,782.
  • These family agribusinesses operate less than 5.5 percent of all farms but account for 46 percent of U.S. agricultural production.
  • Their average household income is 2.5 times greater than average U.S. households, yet they receive about $14,826 each in federal subsidies.

A 1996 Environmental Working Group (EWG) report revealed that the top 100 recipients of federal farm subsidies were then eligible for payments of $200,000 to $600,000 per year.

  • By contrast "Retirement and Residential/Lifestyle Farms" have average annual incomes of $57,242, including about $984 per year from taxpayers.
  • Less than 30 percent of these farmers turn a profit -- but they derive the bulk of their income from other sources and operate farms as part of a rural lifestyle.
  • Such hobby farms account for 54.2 percent of all farms enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers not to work their land.

Interestingly, the EWG reported that over 18,000 of these lifestyle farmers were full- or part-time officials of the Agriculture Department or its local affiliates, and they received an average of $7,000 per year in taxpayer subsidies.

Source: Peter Sperry, "How 'Emergency' Farm Spending Squanders the Surplus," Executive Memorandum No. 621, September 3, 1999, Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Avenue, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20002, (202) 546-4400.


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