Depending on how you calculate the numbers (which is trickier than it seems), the ratio is anywhere from 1:11 to 1:510. Here is a discussion of such calculations from Politifact, a neat service of the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald:
Using 105,000 total USDA employees and the BLS figure of 1.2 million farmers and farm workers — you get a ratio of 1 employee for every 11.4 farmers.
If you exclude Forest Service employees (who have very little to do with farming) in the same calculation, there remains 1 USDA employee for every 17.6 farmers.
But if you count just the Farm Service Agency, the main agency that works with farmers, the ratio becomes 1 Farm Service Agency employee for every 235 farmers under the BLS numbers or 1 employee for every 510 farmers under using the Department of Commerce figure [Senator] LeMieux cited or 1 employee for every 373 farmers using the other Commerce figure Crutchfield provided.
If you use LeMieux’s 2.6 million figure and count all USDA employees, the ratio is about 1 employee for every 25 farmers.
Regardless of the ratio, the most important issue is whether the Department of Agriculture should actually exist. Does it perform duties authorized by the U.S. Constitution and consistent with a limited government? Even aside from the bigger issue, clearly some pruning is due given the Department of Agriculture’s vast array of unnecessary programs, agencies, and offices. I’ve highlighted the most egregious agencies that should be eliminated or cut substantially and whose tasks should be conducted in the private sphere (many of the others probably could be too, but there might be something legitimate about them).
Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS): AMS facilitates the strategic marketing of agricultural products in domestic and international markets while ensuring fair trading practices and promoting a competitive and efficient marketplace. AMS constantly works to develop new marketing services to increase customer satisfaction.
Agricultural Research Service (ARS): ARS is USDA’s principal in-house research agency. ARS leads America towards a better future through agricultural research and information.
Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS): APHIS provides leadership in ensuring the health and care of animals and plants. The agency improves agricultural productivity and competitiveness and contributes to the national economy and the public health.
Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion (CNPP): CNPP works to improve the health and well-being of Americans by developing and promoting dietary guidance that links scientific research to the nutrition needs of consumers.
Economic Research Service (ERS): ERS is USDA’s principal social science research agency. Each year, ERS communicates research results and socioeconomic indicators via briefings, analyses for policymakers and their staffs, market analysis updates, and major reports.
Farm Service Agency (FSA): The Farm Service Agency implements agricultural policy, administers credit and loan programs, and manages conservation, commodity, disaster and farm marketing programs through a national network of offices.
Food and Nutrition Service (FNS): FNS increases food security and reduces hunger in partnership with cooperating organizations by providing children and low-income people access to food, a healthy diet, and nutrition education in a manner that supports American agriculture and inspires public confidence.
Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS): FSIS enhances public health and well-being by protecting the public from foodborne illness and ensuring that the nation’s meat, poultry and egg products are safe, wholesome, and correctly packaged.
Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS): FAS works to improve foreign market access for U.S. products. This USDA agency operates programs designed to build new markets and improve the competitive position of U.S. agriculture in the global marketplace.
Forest Service (FS): FS sustains the health, diversity and productivity of the Nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations.
Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA): GIPSA facilitates the marketing of livestock, poultry, meat, cereals, oilseeds, and related agricultural products. It also promotes fair and competitive trading practices for the overall benefit of consumers and American agriculture. GIPSA ensures open and competitive markets for livestock, poultry, and meat by investigating and monitoring industry trade practices.
National Agricultural Library (NAL): NAL ensures and enhances access to agricultural information for a better quality of life.
National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS): NASS serves the basic agricultural and rural data needs of the country by providing objective, important and accurate statistical information and services to farmers, ranchers, agribusinesses and public officials. This data is vital to monitoring the ever-changing agricultural sector and carrying out farm policy.
National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA): In partnership with land-grant universities, and other public and private organizations, NIFA provides the focus to advance a global system of extramural research, extension, and higher education in the food and agricultural sciences.
Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS): NRCS provides leadership in a partnership effort to help people conserve, maintain and improve our natural resources and environment.
Risk Management Agency (RMA): RMA helps to ensure that farmers have the financial tools necessary to manage their agricultural risks. RMA provides coverage through the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation, which promotes national welfare by improving the economic stability of agriculture.
Rural Development (RD): RD helps rural areas to develop and grow by offering Federal assistance that improves quality of life. RD targets communities in need and then empowers them with financial and technical resources.