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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Because of ever-changing market conditions and production costs, good management is the key to the survival of both large and small farms, a University of Tennessee agricultural economist said Friday.

Dr. Delton Gerloff said there are many reasons why the number of farms declined again last year, but the main ones obviously are economic.

The U.S. Agriculture Department said the number of U.S. farms in 1996 is 2.06 million, down from 2.25 million just 10 years ago. The decline is gradual and annual, USDA said.

Mark Harris, deputy state agriculture statistician, said Tennessee a year ago had an estimated 80,000 farms, down 1,000 from the previous year. Harris said 57,000 of this year’s farms generate sales up to $9,999; the other 23,000 have sales of $10,000 or more.

“Most of those 57,000 farmers with sales below $9,999 have other sources of income,” Harris said.

Not all farmers who leave the business do so because they failed, Gerloff said. Some simply find something better, more profitable, he said.

“The good managers, regardless of the size of the farms, are going to be the ones who hang in there,” Gerloff said.

“The smaller farms are not inherently less profitable, but they may have to change if the market conditions require that they get bigger. And I think a lot of them have done that,” Gerloff said.

Contact: Dr. Delton Gerloff (423-974-7271)