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Agri-Pulse reports:

USDA estimates the number of farms in the United States at 2.2 million last year, down 11,630 from 2011, but essentially unchanged in the past decade. Its annual Farms, Land in Farms and Livestock Operations report issued Tuesday documents the ongoing change in the structure of agriculture, with fewer farms accounting for a larger share of land ownership and a growing share of farm production.

Farmland in production, at 914 million acres, is 3 million acres less than 2011 and the average farm size is 421 acres, up a single acre from the previous year. But the breakdown by "sales classes" offers the more telling data. The number of commercial farms and ranches with sales of
$500,000 or more increased by 8.6 percent to 145,190 farms - or 6.6 percent of all farms.

The decline in livestock operations appears about on pace with recent years. Beef cow operations shrank 1 percent to 729,000 and hog farms fell 1 percent to 68,300. Farms with at least one milk cow totaled 58,000, a decline of 3 percent in a year. The annual shrinkage in dairy farm numbers since 2003 has ranged from 3.1 percent to 5.5 percent.

Following the pattern of at least two decades, concentration in beef production accelerated more slowly than that of milk or pork production. The largest 1,370 beef operations - those 1,000 head or larger - accounted for 7.7 percent of the beef cattle inventory. By comparison, the 9,000 hog operations with 2,000 or more head accounted for 87 percent of the inventory. The largest 780 dairy farms - only 1.3 percent of milking operations - produce 34.7 percent of the nation's milk.

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