In 2003 it reports that small farms that have $10,000 - $249,999 in sales to be 34% of all farms (in 2003), which is still quite significant compared to the 4.8% that industrial complexes (1.7%) and very large family farms (3.1%) hold.
It's not about super large farms, it's about the industrial machine that has taken over small and large farms, in order to receive subsidies and remain competitive. "Small farmers are often absorbed into factory farm operations, acting as contract growers for the industrial facilities." (Wikipedia) These are still considered independent farms in the census I believe.
Corn and Soy Beans account for by far the majority of crops. http://www.epa.gov/agriculture/ag101/cropmajor.html (a little outdated). Have you been to a corn / soy bean farm? Visit one and ask the farmer if he enjoys his job, and how much he makes (many are in the red). Small or large, the specific crops and tactics are pretty much identical and probably don't fit our picture of the ideal farm.
Livestock farming is even worse. Most of the farms are only briefly involved at the beginning of the animal's life then shipped off to a feedlot. "In 1967, there were one million pig farms in America; as of 2002, there were 114,000, with 80 million pigs (out of 95 million) killed each year on factory farms as of 2002" (Wikipedia). It's the same story with beef and poultry.
I finally got around to reading Omnivore's Dilemma, and it's extremely depressing to say the least. Especially when it comes to factory farming. Sustainable / local farming is a small glimmer of hope though.
We're way off topic now and I have no idea what I was trying to say that relates in any way to the original discussion...
"Have you been to a corn / soy bean farm? Visit one and ask the farmer if he enjoys his job, and how much he makes (many are in the red)."
Have you done this yourself, or are you just trying to score rhetorical points?
I have: my parents are corn/soy/livestock farmers on a small farm they own in the Midwest. Their friends and neighbors are all small operations as well. It's not a job you make much money at, it's true--imagine if all of your income depended on good weather and timing the commodities markets right! They stick with it because it's a job with independence and pride in producing something the world needs. Heritage and tradition, too: many have ancestors who have been farming in the area for a century or more.
It's easy to vilify something if you don't understand it.
Rhetorical points? I have been, and very recently in fact (I've become sort of fascinated with the topic). I'm not even remotely vilifying the farmers. That would be like vilifying anyone who bought a house in 2006 only to lose their shirt. It's the system I take issue with. I'm starting to see most corn / soy farmers more as slave labourers if anything. I realize this may come across as offensive, but I honestly don't mean to offend, as I have absolutely no issue with corn farmers themselves. Rather I take issue with the corn subsidies, the CAFOs, the large meat processing firms, the genetically modified crops, and the fertilizer pushers.
I know some corn/soy bean farmers but not very well. All the farmers I know really well (and have to a point grown up with) are livestock farmers, and they live on a farm and do farm work because they love it. It is not their primary job, most of them do contracting, some are mechanics, some are auctioneers, and others are nurses.
Despite farming not being their primary job, they still make a few thousand dollars a year from sales, which I believe should classify them as a small scale farm.
Farmers don't make a lot of money at all, and they tend to get screwed a lot, this is why you always hear of the angry hillbillies taking over the city. It's kind of like musicians making a living. (Farmers are more important because they provide food, but that's not the point).
As far as industrial machines taking over the business, this is just the nature of needing a lot of food in the world. The morals of these industrial machines are questionable at times, but in the end we need food and most people aren't willing to vegetarian so I guess we are going to have to suck it up until we have better methods. Small scale farms also fill a niche market with local meat/produce and often end up trading/selling their products to other farms.
Back to the point of the main topic; your father wasn't scammed out of his life because he worked hard on a farm. I'm sure at some point he realized that he could sell the farm, move to the city, get a desk job and work less hours much like many other people did in rural areas.
I don't know your father, but I would go as far to say that he probably made a conscious decision to stay on the farm for probably a multitude of reasons. Maybe he liked the life, maybe he liked rural areas, maybe he felt a kid would be better raised on a farm doing lots of hard work, it could be anything really.
Farm work isn't smart work because it requires lot of hard hours with little benefit. Doesn't mean someone is wrong in choosing to do it because it is not only necessary for society, but some people really do like it.
We're just not on the same page. I'm not sure how to emphasize the massive difference between the types of farming you're outlining here. They're so completely different we need new words other than farming to describe them.
When I spoke of my grandfather, I'm referring to grass farming. Corn / soy / industrial livestock farming has almost nothing in common with grass farming so let's completely throw them out for the sake of this topic and reword my statement to this; "My grass farming ancestors believed in working hard and passed this belief onto their children. Their work ethic probably had more to do with what was necessary to survive than their religious beliefs (protestant or otherwise)".
I don't know where you live but I've never heard of angry hillbillies taking over a city. Where I live the farmers are all millionaires, work five months out of the year and spend the rest of the year in Tampa or Tucson.