More misleading reports of "smaller farms"

Here we go again.

Last time it was the New York Times. (See this old post.  And this one and this one.)

Now Emmeline Zhao at the Wall Street Journal:
More — but smaller — farms across the country generated greater national net income in times of drastically less government support. National net farm income in 2008 was $87.3 billion, up from $50.7 billion in 2000, the Census Bureau said last week. Net income was greatest in California, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois.
The latest agriculture census data also reveals a greater number of farms in the U.S. — just over 2.2 million in 2007, up from more than 2.1 million in 2002 — and about a 52% increase in overall property value, but the average size of farms has fallen to 418 acres from 441 acres over the same period....
This is a mirage.  And average farm size is a utterly meaningless statistic. This goes back to an utterly ridiculous definition of a farm that is intended to maximize farm counts and keep counts increasing over time.  But it's the definition that's changing, not the actual management of farms or land.

Here's a great USDA-ERS report that spells out these issues carefully.  Here's a brief report  about how this matters for tracking changes in farm size.

At least the article explains that less government support is coming mainly from the fact that commodity prices are higher today than they were in 2005 and earlier.  What the article shamefully does not mention is the implicit support coming from ethanol subsidies.  These get passed to farmers in the form of higher commodity prices, not checks from the government.  Instead those checks get passed to ethanol producers who then buy the grain from farmers.

Is it too much to ask the Wall Street Journal to inform rather than misinform readers?


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