As mainstream media outlets struggle to balance a commitment to serious journalism with the public’s seemingly insatiable appetite for cute animals, Modern Farmer and ModernFarmer.com are in an enviable position. Launched less than a year ago and funded by Canadian investment firm Fiore Capital, the quarterly and its digital counterpart manage both straight-faced reporting and adorable animal livecams.
Who’s clicking? “We have an audience of farmers, but we also have an audience that is just vaguely curious about animals or vegetables,” says executive editor Reyhan Harmanci from the publication’s offices in Hudson, N.Y. (No, it’s not a farm.) Digital director Jake Swearingen adds that when the publication asks readers about their lifestyles, the most common response is: “I want to be an informed consumer.”
Getting acquainted with Modern Farmer made us curious about just what agriculture in the U.S. looks like right now. (We also briefly pondered whether anyone would click a Baby CEOs livecam.) So we looked at data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture on a number of farm-related topics and talked to the editors at Modern Farmer about everything from the surprising growth of quails to the struggling dairy cattle industry.
Since 1964, the total number of farms in the U.S. has been dwindling. In recent years, however, the number of farms under nine acres has increased—the “hobby farmers” as Modern Farmer calls them. “There’s been tremendous growth in the number of people that want to own up to about 50 acres of farmland,” says Swearingen. “Very, very large farms and very, very small farms are still growing, but farms in that middle size are being squeezed out.”
Gracing covers of Modern Farmer so far are sheep and goats, animals that appeal to small farm operators with an average age of 55. They’re also really cute— “Unstoppable,” says Swearingen. The goatcam has generated 60,000 pageviews, 9,000 Facebook (FB) shares,and 1,500 Twitter (TWTR) mentions.
As for farm animals, the majority of species experienced major growth from 2002 to 2007, but the numbers of such farm favorites as beef cattle and sheep have declined. Modern Farmer CEO and editor-in-chief Ann Marie Gardner wasn’t surprised to see donkeys high atop the list, claiming that they are the “new designer animal.” (Spoiler alert: “I see donkeys in our future,” she added.)
This last chart shows the percentage of animals on farms in the U.S. compared to the percentage of animals in the headlines of articles on ModernFarmer.com. Chickens rule—the editors firmly believe they are the gateway drug into farming. “Anyone can build a backyard coop,” says Swearingen, while also pointing out that “the number of animals in the U.S. isn’t the best indicator of what’s popular.” So true: I’d take lambs over Christmas cats any day.