Economics study says 137,700 farmers kept farming

A new study estimates that as many as 137,700 farmers across the U.S. would have left farming in the past 25 years if it weren't for Cooperative Extension programs.

Stephen Goetz, Penn State University, and Meri Davalasheridze, Texas A&M-Galveston, examined the value of Extension services and compiled study results titled: "State Cooperative Extension Spending and Farmer Exits."

"There is tremendous return to the community," Goetz said. "The numbers are clear. These services are making an impact."

He said Extension services "are helping create and keep jobs and doing it for less money" than other state and federal agricultural programs. Through mathematical calculations in the study, Goetz and Davalasheridze, compare Extension services' value to farm subsidy programs.

The study was recent published in Applied Economic Perspectives and Policy. The study results are based around mathematical equations.

The abstract notes that financials from 1983 to 2010 were used to examine the impact of Extension on net changes in the number of farmers. "On balance, nearly 500,000 more farmers left then entered agriculture over the period studied. We estimate that without Extension, as many as 137,700 (or 28 percent) additional farmers would have disappeared on net. Overall, Extension programs are a remarkably cost effective way of keeping farmers in agiculture. Alternatively, shifting just 1.5 percent of federal farm program payments to Extension would have reduced net exits over this period by an estimated 11 percent, or 55,000 farmers."

There is back and forth debate in the study about whether keeping farmers on the land or having fewer farmers with larger operations swallowing up the smaller ones is a positive economically for rural America and food production.

The study explains how the Smith-Lever Act of 1914 established the agricultural Cooperative Extension System with a responsibility and goal "to translate and deliver university research to farmers who can apply the information gainfully, but also to provide feedback to researchers about emerging practical problems facing farmers."