What is a family farmer?

Several farming families may own heavy equipment together.

A family farmer is an individual who works on a farm that is owned and operated as a family business by members of a family, including people such as parents, siblings, children, cousins, and grandparents. Family farms are eligible for certain government benefits, and there may be advantages to filing taxes and other legal documents with this status. A family farmer can also belong to community collectives and organizations that promote family farming and defend their members.

Dairy farms are usually family-owned.

Family farming can be passed down through several generations, although a family can also acquire a farm and start running it as a business. The farm must be owned and operated by the family, although it is possible to hire full-time labor to help out on a large family farm or use seasonal labor during the harvest season and other important times of the year. Several generations can work on the property, and it is possible to see housing for several family members on the farm. The family farmer manages the day-to-day operations and may live on site.

Family farms that have a niche market, such as organic farming, often need special certifications.

To qualify as a family farm, it must be run as a business, not a hobby, country estate, or country residence. This means that the family farm must generate enough income to cover operating expenses, including expenses for vets, seeds, equipment and so on. If the farm is doing well, payments to family members may also be available, usually offered on a scale depending on their position in the company. The family farmer can rely on these payments or they can have a separate business to meet their own needs.

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Family farming can focus on raising livestock.

Family farms can be run as sole proprietorships, commercial partnerships between family members, or family corporations. If the company is not owned by the family or has a majority shareholder outside the family, it ceases to be a family farm and cannot be treated as such under the law. Farms that meet these criteria are eligible for government assistance, family farm incentive programs and special labeling laws in some regions, where family farms may have their own insignia to alert customers to the origin of their products.

Family farmers may have a preference when selling their crops in local markets.

Running a farm can be financially challenging. A family farmer may not have access to the corporate resources that very large farms use to support themselves and may rely on subsidies, loans and other financial aid at various times of the year. Niche farms like organic farming have to pay for certifications so they can use special labeling, and that can be expensive. Benefits for family farming can include access to limited markets, community subsidies, membership in community organizations, and special treatment under the law for taxes and bankruptcy proceedings.

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