The International Year of Family Farming (IYFF) in 2014 has raised a number of issues related to the economic and policy context of family farming (FF), which covers a wide variety of organisations of farm production. In this paper, after some conceptual discussion, definitional issues are considered, in both qualitative and statistical terms, with evidence based mainly on Eurostat and FADN data on farm labour use, legal type and farm specialisation. The need or otherwise of quantitative thresholds is discussed, as well as the sensitivity of the scale of FF in the EU to different definitions. The economic nature of FF is then analysed, in terms of its significance for EU and national policy. Challenges to FF are identified, and the importance of farm succession legislation and taxation for the persistence of FF is stressed. Finally, based on the previous material, a number of discussion points are offered, for consideration in future economic analysis.