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What Is a Family Farmer?

Several farming families may own heavy equipment jointly.
Family farmers may be given preference when selling crops through local markets.
Family farms may focus on raising livestock.
Dairy farms are often owned by families.
Family farms that have a niche market, like organic agriculture, often need special certifications.
Article Details
  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 18 September 2014
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A family farmer is an individual who works on a farm owned and operated as a family business by the members of a family, including people like parents, siblings, children, cousins, and grandparents. Family farms are eligible for certain government benefits, and there can be advantages to filing taxes and other legal documents with this status. A family farmer may also belong to community collectives and organizations that promote family farming and advocate for their members.

Family farms can be passed down through multiple 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 assist on a large family farm, or to use seasonal labor during harvest season and other key times of the year. Multiple generations may work on the property, and it is possible to see housing for several family members on the farm. The family farmer manages daily operations and may live on site.

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To qualify as a family farm, it must be run as a business, not a hobby, homestead, or rural residence. This means the family farm must bring in income sufficient to meet operating expenses including costs for veterinary bills, seed, equipment, and so forth. If the farm is doing well, payouts to family members may also be available, usually offered on a scale depending on their position in the company. A family farmer may rely on these payments or can run a separate business to meet his own needs.

Family farms can be run as sole proprietorships, business partnerships between members of a family, or family corporations. If the company is not owned by the family or has a majority shareholder from outside the family, it is no longer a family farm and cannot be treated as such under the law. Farms that meet these criteria are eligible for government assistance, incentive programs for family farms, and special labeling laws in some regions, where family farms may have their own label insignia to alert customers to the source of their products.

Running a farm can be financially challenging. A family farmer may lack access to the corporate resources very large farms use to support themselves and can rely on grants, loans, and other financial assistance at various times of the year. Farms with a niche, like organic agriculture, need to pay for certifications so they can use special labeling, and this can be costly. Benefits for family farms can include access to limited markets, community grants, membership in communal organizations, and special treatment under the law for taxes and bankruptcy proceedings.

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