So How Many Acres DO You Farm?

My Generation

Whether it's the New York Times or Prairie Farmer, asking how many acres you farm is still a sticky question.

Published on: January 11, 2012
I received a most thoughtful response to last week's blog, where I re-told my cautionary feelings about sharing information with the New York Times.

The reader, Bill Graff (farmer and former IL FSA head), offered up this bit of insight: "We farmers probably give out way too much information. My wife, Judi, did not grow up on a farm and she thinks farmers let too many of their business decisions go out of their mouths that should 'never leave their lips,' as she says. I think we (farmers) are always in the mode of trying to impress that prospective landlord that we do not realize very few decision makers/reporters/farm group staff/etc. are potential landlords."

And the more I think about it, I think he's right. Harkening to my German ancestry, my thinking on acreage is generally: it is what it is, and here's how much we farm and that's that. Nothing to hide, nothing to brag about, it just is what it is. Done.

And I think the average non-farmer doesn't really grasp the weight that the response to that question can carry. The problem, of course, is that agricultural business operates in a bit of a strange world. Most non-farm business owners wouldn’t hesitate to share the scope of their business. However, we are a modern business structure (attempting to) operate at the whims of our landowner neighbors. And if you don’t own your ground, their whims are important. And relevant to your business.

So there's that.

Having said all that, what do you think? Do we share too much in agriculture? If I call you up for a story and ask how much you farm, would you answer? Or would you – as Bill does – simply say "I farm enough"?

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  1. Steve says:

    My Dad was a farmer and he said that you should never ask what someone makes, how many head of cattle they own or how big their farm is. Unfortunately with only 1% of Americans owning farmland, the general public doesn't know that it is a faux pas to ask what a farmer's acreage is. I just educated a colleague today about this when she asked how many acres our farm was.

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  3. Anonymous says:

    We find that question to be very annoying. I would never ask someone in casual conversation what their salary is, but many people have no problem asking farmers a similar question. Most of the time, I think it is really done in ignorance that it is none of their business! People are curious and don't understand how agriculture works.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The best one and will forever be my last one was the offer of $10.00 for a short survey,when almost finished ,I hear you are to small to qualify for our information.woops to late you got me. DONE, Send me the $10.00 then call.

  5. Anonymous says:

    As a journalist, I find it very helpful to know the acreage of my interviewee. To me, there is a vast difference between an operation that is 200, 700, 1,500 or even more. Knowing how much ground they farm gives me insight to their operation and its own set of struggles. It helps paint a picture readers can relate to. While we don't need to know area down to a square foot, ballpark figures are helpful and even valuable to know. Would you agree as a journalist?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Both my father and my grandfather raised our family to not talk about our business in public. This extended even to the point of providing answers to the USDA voluntary farm surveys. They even had to go to their US Senator in an effort to be removed from the voluntary statistical survey. As long as he was in office, we weren't bothered. Once he was out, the pestering resumed. We feel that no other industry in the Country provides the world with so much data regarding their intentions, inventory, and practices.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Yes, we give out to much info it is it isn't anybody else business how many acres we farm how many acres of corn, soybeans, etc. and how many hogs, cattle and sheep we have. It especially isn't anything the govt. needs to know. I won't participate in any survey that wants to know such info.

  8. Anonymous says:

    --from Holly Spangler Yes, most definitely, I agree it helps paint a picture. It can also give the farmer source authority on the topic he/she is being interviewed for - "Johnson, who grows 1,200 acres of corn each year, uses fungicide because..." Some are arguing asking number of acres is like asking your salary, and equally taboo. That's not exactly correct; asking your net income last year would be like asking your salary. Asking number of acres is like asking how many cars are produced in a factory. It offers a look at size and scope, not profit. Still, for some farmers, that's more information than they want to give. And it's their information so it's up to them. --HS