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PATS Research Summary No. 4

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Farming in Wisconsin has undergone considerable change in the last few decades. U.S. Census statistics suggest that the state lost almost 13 percent of its farms and over 10 percent of its farmland between 1987-1997. The decline in farm numbers was particularly severe for mid-sized commercial livestock farms. During this period, the number of hog farms dropped by almost 60 percent, dairy farms fell by 40 percent, and farms with any harvested cropland declined by more than 20 percent (Buttel, 1999). Meanwhile, when dairy and hog farm number declines are removed from the equation, census results show that there was actually significant growth in part-time and hobby farm numbers during the 1990s in Wisconsin. While the periodic Census of Agriculture provides some key insights into the long-term trends in the Wisconsin farm sector, the Census asks relatively few questions about a number of important topics. Specifically, there is little information gathered about the use of different agricultural technologies or management practices. In addition, despite the fact that most Wisconsin farms are run as family businesses, there is virtually no information collected about members of the farm household (other than the lead operator) or the household’s involvement in off-farm as well as farming activities. Finally, the Census asks no questions about the opinions or views of Wisconsin farmers concerning important public policy questions.