- Associated Press - Saturday, May 31, 2014

CALDWELL, Idaho (AP) - Three generations of farmers will spend this summer working the 400 acres of soil known as Sunny View Farms, on the outer edge of Caldwell. The Freeman family grows everything from sugar beets and onions to wheat and seeds that other farmers rely on to grow their own crops.

Sid Freeman, 53, is the owner. His septuagenarian father, Loren, is “retired,” which really just means he works less, Sid Freeman says.

The youngest Sunny View farmer is 21-year-old Wes Freeman, a student at Boise State University who expects to take over the business someday. He hopes to share the farm with his older brother, Justin, who works in agribusiness up north.

They come from a long line of farmers - seven generations now.

“Each generation (before Sid Freeman) has stood on its own, nothing passed on to the next,” Sid Freeman said. He bought his parents’ farm and will pass everything on to his sons, and he is proud “to be able to change that and forge the future - and we know that future is in agriculture.”

Midsize family farms such as Sunny View are becoming less common.

According to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture census, the family- or farmer-owned operation is still king in Idaho, making up 83.5 percent of all farms in the state. But that’s down from a peak of 88.1 percent 10 years earlier and the lowest since at least 1997.

“The trend has been that you’ve got larger operations that are growing, smaller operations that are growing … and the middle-size ones are the ones that are disappearing,” said Neil Rimbey, Caldwell range economist for the University of Idaho Extension.

Meanwhile, corporate-owned farms are making gains. They were 7.2 percent of all Idaho farms in 2012, up from a low of 4.9 percent 10 years earlier and the highest share since at least 1997.

Rimbey cautions that “corporate-owned” isn’t synonymous with “large” and that some corporations are family businesses. “It isn’t a move to corporate agriculture,” he said. “There are still operations that are family farms or ranches that you would categorize as big operations.”

Sid Freeman notes that some family farms may become corporations because of liability. “One mishap could end up costing you literally the farm,” he said, and the Freemans are looking at incorporating for that reason.

Larger farms have economies of scale to weather volatility and rising costs, while small farms are bolstered by the popularity of farmers markets and hobby-esque farming, economists said.

“I think we’re going to see greater incomes off of smaller-size farms” because of the trend toward local, sustainable food production, Sid Freeman said.

The farms in between? They’re caught in some strong winds. Baby boomer farmers are getting older, and their children aren’t as eager to take over the farms, economists said. The dollars that farmers and ranchers spend on their crops or livestock has more than doubled in the past 15 years. All of this breeds temptation to sell to a neighbor or well-funded competitor.

“We’re seeing some urbanization of farm ground, too,” said C. Wilson Gray, Twin Falls district extension economist for the University of Idaho. “Farm ground being converted to subdivisions (is) kind of a slow-moving factor in reducing the amount of farm ground.”

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