Working farms are getting squeezed

In June, a statewide task force in Minnesota released its Animal Agriculture Industry Report. It’s 60 pages, but it’s good reading.
I found myself inserting “Ohio” every time I read “Minnesota” and, other than the production numbers, most of the issues raised and recommendations proffered could be identical for Ohio and Pennsylvania.
The reality: Input costs have increased and commodity prices have remained relatively unchanged. The result: Profit margins for farmers have shrunk. The impact: Some farmers quit or retire; some farm part-time and work off the farm; some try alternative direct marketing or niche commodities; some add acres or animals.
It’s tough to generate a livable income down on the farm.
According to a 2003 University of Minnesota study, a farm family in southwestern Minnesota required the following to generate the average 2002 area family living amount of $51,826:
Corn 1,490 acres
Soybeans 1,064 acres
Hogs (farrow-to-finish) 8,010 head
Dairy cows 97 head
Beef (cow-calf) 1,091 head

These figures assume that commodity was the family’s exclusive source of income.
But something else cropped up in this report and in another think tank report I read this summer: Social and environmental pressures are contributing to the decline of many ag sectors. In fact, the Minnesota report calls the effect on agricultural growth “chilling.”
In tandem with social pressures, the political climate does not always support agriculture. And that’s true on all levels – local, state and federal.
Agriculture faces an uncertain future.
I won’t downplay the impact agriculture has on the environment, both positively and negatively. And agriculture plays a role in a community’s social fabric and that, too, can be either positive or negative.
But mid-sized farms – working farms where the chief source of income and primary occupation is farming – are being driven out of business.
These are the farms that sustain rural communities. These are the farmers who care properly for their animals. These are the farmers who take their role as stewards of the land seriously. These are the farms we want to drive by in the countryside.
And these are the farms that are getting squeezed and may not make it through another generation.
There’s no simple answer, no magic policy, that reverses the structural changes happening within agriculture.
A Frontiers of Freedom Institute white paper issued this summer said it best: “The bottom line is that there are many different types of agriculture producers – different sized farms producing various crops and raising all kinds of animals. Each producer has a different business model and approach to developing better agricultural products.
“Thus, we must have policies in place that don’t pick winners and losers, but rather create a framework in which innovation and well-organized businesses are allowed to succeed.”
We need vision.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 1-800-837-3419 or at editor@farmanddairy.com.)

About the Author

Farm and Dairy Editor Susan Crowell has been with the paper since 1985, serving as its editor since 1989. Raised on a farm in Holmes County, she is a graduate of Kent State University.You can follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/scrowell and follow Farm and Dairy at http://twitter.com/farmanddairy. You can also find her on Google+ and Facebook. More Stories by Susan Crowell

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