FARMERS ARE a highly studied group. Many companies that sell to farmers either do their own research or pay for information about how and why farmers buy inputs. They want this information correlated to the size and type of farm operation. Even media companies like the one that owns this magazine conduct studies on farmer buying habits. In contrast, I don't think a single person or company has ever studied how a farm writer spends money.

One of the biggest and most objective farm studies conducted in the U.S. is done at Purdue University. Its Center for Food and Agricultural Business presents results of a study every few years during the university's National Conference for Agribusiness.

The latest Purdue study, conducted with USDA's Economic Research Service and presented last fall, shows that growers can be classified according to income source into three main groups. The researchers have coined the name “ruralpolitan” to identify a fast-growing group of farmers with either single or double incomes derived off the farm. This group represents a whopping 47% of all U.S. farm households. A typical double-income ruralpolitan earns an income of about $85,000 a year but posts about a $3,000 loss on the farm. The single-income ruralpolitan earns about $67,000 a year and loses about $2,000 a year from farming.

The readers of this magazine make up the second group of farmers, those who own commercial and traditional farms, which represent 15% of U.S. farm households. Commercial farm households earn more than $70,000 a year, with about $50,000 of it from farming. Traditional farm households earn about $47,000, with $30,000 earned from the farm.

Households in the third group are defined as being a farm operator with a spouse working off the farm, or a senior who is near retirement but is still active on the farm. This group makes up 38% of U.S. farm households. The farm operator and spouse working off the farm earn a combined household income of about $70,000 with just $20,000 from the farm. Growers in the active senior group earn only about $13,000 a year with less than $5,000 from the farm.

Although traditional commercial farmers think they may control the farm market, the newer ruralpolitan group can't be dismissed. This group has plenty of disposable income to spend on farming and doesn't require a profit. So expect to see more products, retail outlets, services and even magazines change to capture this growing segment that has the potential to rule the market.