North Dakota’s fertile land has nurtured the state’s diverse agriculture industry for centuries, serving as the foundation for thousands of farms.
In 2012, North Dakota was home to about 31,000 farms. According to the most recent statistics in 2016, the number of farms dropped to 29,800, almost 4 percent. However, despite the decrease in numbers, the average size of North Dakota farms increased 3.5 percent, from 1,268 acres in 2012 to 1,312 acres in 2016, according to Darin Jantzi, state statistician for the National Agricultural Statistics Service in the North Dakota Field Office.
As for the reasoning behind this phenomenon – it’s not cut and dry, says Dr. Frayne Olson, crop economist/marketing specialist.
“We’ve seen this trend happening for a long time,” Olson says. “A large portion of farm consolidation is driven by technology. New technologies come at a cost, and in order to spread that cost over enough bushels or acres or head to make it viable, farms have to be relatively large.”
Olson explains that as farmers continue to adapt and become more efficient thanks to these new technologies, one person can do more work in the same amount of time. As a result, there’s a competitive pressure to stay on top of the game and maintain margins to generate enough revenue. For smaller farms or those who may not be as financially successful due to size, it’s often harder to keep up.
Olson says that since they’ve been tracking the rate of change, farm numbers have continued to decrease while size increased, but there was a slowing in the 2000s.
“Starting in 2007, we saw a slowing of this rate of change because lots of younger people were entering into production agriculture careers,” he says. “A lot of them were coming back to the family farm, so it was easier to find people who wanted to farm,” which helped curb consolidation. “We still saw more people retiring and leaving than entering, though,” he adds.
As far as the impact of the phenomenon, Olson says it’s tough to say whether it’s positive or negative, since you can’t revisit the past to measure alternate change. The shift comes with pros and cons, but North Dakota agriculture remains strong regardless.