Small Farms Disappearing Rapidly


    GRAND RAPIDS — A recent report said small farms in southeast Michigan were thriving, despite all the new homes sprawling across Macomb and Wayne counties.

    The report noted that sales by small farms were up and the number of small farms had risen in the metro Detroit area since 1997.

    But the same can’t be said for Kent County, at least not in the aggregate. Here, the small has gotten smaller through less annual sales revenue and the number has gotten fewer by an average of 22 farms a year.

    The state defines small farms by annual sales rather than acreage, although most are likely less than 50 acres. Annual sales that range from $1,000 to $9,999 make a farm in Michigan a small farm.

    In 1997, there were 488 small farms nestled between those sales figures in the county. But by 2002, 111 had disappeared, leaving the county with 377, or a dip of 22 percent.

    In 1997, the county’s small farms sold $1.92 million worth of products. That sales figure fell by 24 percent to $1.46 million in 2002 — a difference of $462,000, according to the 2002 Census of Agriculture.

    The small farms that vanished the most from the county’s landscape were the medium-sized small — those with annual sales between $2,500 and $4,999. Forty-five percent of these, or 79 farms, were gone in 2002 from 1997. Over the same time, their total annual sales fell by 46 percent, or $290,000.

    In contrast, the smallest of the small farms lost the least. The number of farms with sales from $1,000 to $2,499 was only down by three, or 1.8 percent, and their total annual sales only fell by $8,000 for a drop of 2.9 percent.

    The largest of the small farms, with yearly sales from $5,000 to $9,999, dwindled by 29, or 20 percent, during that five-year stretch. Their annual sales also slipped by $164,000, or 16 percent, over that period.

    The bright spot in the latest Census data was that the average annual sales figure for all the small farms in Kent only fell by 1.6 percent from 1997 to 2002. In 1997, that figure was $3,947. By 2002, that annual average was $3,883.

    Only the owners of the largest of the small farms saw their average annual sales figure grow during that period. It rose by 4.7 percent, from $6,993 in 1997 to $7,325 in 2002. But even that increase didn’t keep up with inflation for those five years.

    Owners of the smallest small farms watched their average annual sales slip by 1.1 percent to $1,658 in 2002, while those in the middle group had a 2.3 percent loss in sales and fell to an average of $3,490.           

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