10/20 – Today I Learned (Farming in Texas and Kansas)

man planting plant

This morning I was working at a coffeeshop in Austin. When I sat down at my table, there was a girl next to me wearing a hat that said “Urban American Farmer”. So I gave it a Google to see what it was.

I found this website: Urban American Farmer. It’s a company that teaches people about small-scale farming and gardening (and foodscaping). I’ve been hearing a lot about this recently. Maybe it’s a product of being in Austin, or maybe it’s just a general trend across the United States.

I was sitting in the sauna the other day and was listening to a couple of guys discuss their “regenerative farms”, and share some common problems and experiences they’ve had recently. It made me think, “Hell ya! I want a farm, too.” It’s so cool to think about growing all of your food (or a large percentage of it).

It feels like people are becoming frustrated with the American industrial food system, which treats animals like shit, promotes poor diets, and keeps people pretty unhealthy.

Interest in “regenerative farming” from January 2004 to October 2023.

I think this growing interest in regenerative farming is a response to people feeling like they can no longer trust that the food they buy at the grocery store is high quality and healthy.

Anyway, I wanted to learn more about what the farming industry looked like in Texas compared to Kansas (where I’m from originally). I wanted to know if the difference came from Texas producing different crops than Kansas. I was surprised to find out that both Texas and Kansas’ largest agricultural product is cattle.

Today I Learned (10/20/2023)

So here are a few things I came across that I thought were interesting:

The average size of a farm in Texas is about 400 acres. With an average price per acre of $4116, that’s over $1.6 million in land.

I know that “average” can be misleading as a couple of farms of 10,000+ acres could skew this number upward. However, 400 acres sounded small to me when I saw the number. Many of the farms I’ve heard people talk about in the midwest are thousands of acres.

What surprised me the most was the value of that land. A 400 acre farm, based on the average price per acre in Texas, is worth over $1.6 million. So the barrier to entry for becoming a farm seems very high. I think it makes sense why so few young people are getting into the farming business. Unless you inherit a farm from your family, coming up with $1.6 million to purchase a farm is quite a task.

Texas farmland has increased in value from $883 in 2003 to $4446 in 2023. That’s an increase of 403.5%. For comparison, the S&P 500 has seen an increase of 312.6% during the same period.

Land is expensive. And it’s limited. However, I would not have guessed that land prices have outpaced the S&P 500 over the past two decades. The stock market boom in that time includes the insane growth of companies like Amazon, Apple, Tesla, Facebook, and others.

I don’t see the value of farmland decreasing any time soon, unless the food system gets completely disrupted by some sort of lab-grown meat. I guess if you have an extra $1.6 million laying around, farmland might be a good investment for the next two decades.

About 50% of Texas’s agricultural production is cattle, but in Kansas that number is 59.08%. I would have thought that crops would make up more of Kansas’ production.

I wondered if this focus on more regenerative farming was unique to Texas because the commodities that Texas produced were conducive to that style of farming. However, I was surprised to see that the percentage of crops that Texas produces is pretty similar to Kansas.

I always assumed that Kansas’ largest commodity product was wheat. Probably because my dad is from Wellington, Kansas — known as the “Wheat Capital of the World.” However, cattle actually makes up a larger percentage of agricultural production in Kansas than in Texas.

The average farm size in Kansas is 781 acres, almost twice the size of the average farm in Texas. However, since land is cheaper in Kansas the average value of that farm is about the same. ($1.6-1.7 million)

This number surprised me. I would have assumed that there wouldn’t be much disparity in the the average size of a farm between Kansas and Texas. But when I looked into the average price per acre of farmland in Kansas compared to Texas, I found that the value of the average farm in both states was about the same.

And I just checked with ChatGPT, to see what the value of the average farm across the United States was. It returned an average price per acre of farm real estate of $3,160 per acre, and an average farm size of about 444 acres. So the average value of a farm in the United States is about $1.4 million.

I wondered if there was some reason why farms were that size. Like maybe the federal government offered grants/subsidies for farms up to that size or something. But I wasn’t able to find anything that clearly explained the reason.

The average American farmer is 57.5 years old.

And finally, the average American farmer is getting old. In 2017, the average farmer was 57.5 years old. And younger people aren’t coming into the industry as these farmers retire. This is concerning. If our entire food system is relying on an aging population that might not be around in 20 or 30 years, what are we going to do?

Unfortunately, my prediction here is that farms will sell to large conglomerates. This will likely lead to more industrial farming, less focus on regenerative agriculture, and less nutrient-dense food for consumers.

Farming is far from dead. It simply can’t be dead. Even if 95% of people live in cities (that number is currently 80% in the U.S.), there will still need to be people out in the country growing food for the people in cities. So I’m incredibly curious about who will pick up farming as farmers retire or die.

Published by stewofkc

I write stuff in Kansas City.

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