The Future of Large- and Small-Scale Agriculture in the U.S

Friday, February 12, 2016: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM
Marshall Ballroom North (Marriott Wardman Park)
Catherine Woteki, USDA, Washington, DC
Agriculture is a dynamic system composed of  interacting biological, physical, and socioeconomic components, and any predictions about the future of agriculture in the US must take into account interactions and trade-offs within the system.  The US agricultural system today is highly diverse and facing major challenges in all three domains.  Of the approximately 2 million farms, most are small and account for only 22% of production.  Midsize and large farms account for 68% of production.  Nonfamily-owned farms comprise less than 1% of farms and account for 10% of production.  Large farms dominate dairy, beef, and high-value crops like fruits and vegetables.  Small farms produce more than half of poultry (mostly under production contracts) and hay.  The operators of farms are aging – fully a third of them are 65 years or older – and a key factor in the future of American agriculture is what happens to their land as they transition into retirement. Additional issues that will shape the agricultural system of tomorrow include the extent to which farmers adopt practices to sustainably intensify agricultural production to meet food, feed, industrial feedstocks and fiber demand; the success that breeders have in building resilience to climate change into crop and livestock production systems; how the farm sector responds to changing societal values regarding genetic engineering of crops and livestock, animal welfare, and issues of farm size and location;  and the extent to which increasing income and societal concerns about health and nutrition change demand for food quantity and quality.  Global markets for agricultural products and geopolitics will also interplay with the farm sector shaping the future of large and small-scale agriculture in the US.