2Bits: Saving the American Small Farm
“The simple hearth of the small farm is the true center of our universe.”
The number of American Small Farms is decreasing. This should concern you.
First, the facts:
- Four percent of American farms have annual sales over $1 million dollars. These farms produce two-thirds of the agriculture output.
- Three-quarters of American cropland is controlled by 12% of American farms.
- The number of American farms with over a million dollars in revenue has doubled between 1992 and 2015, while smaller farms with revenue of $350,000 – $999,999 has dropped by 5%.
Who and what does this impact?
- There is less crop, produce, and livestock diversity. This has numerous biological impacts, including pollinator (bees, wasps, butterflies) activity, as well as soil, plant, and animal health and water quality.
- It transforms rural communities by slowly decreasing the number of farmers.
- A decreasing number of farmers means less retail business and less employment opportunities.
- With less retail business at farm supply stores and grain, fertilizer, and chemical companies, these businesses close and move out of town.
- Decreased employment opportunities means smaller school classroom sizes and less federal dollars spent on education. This also affects the number of places for youth to work.
- Fewer places to work means communities’ youth leave town after high school, which reduces population size.
- Decreased retail business and employment opportunities also means fewer loan officers at local financial institutions.
- Larger farms often pay cash for rented acreage, making it hard for small and often younger farmers to find reasonable land to rent. Smaller farmers typically pay rent with a percentage of the harvested crop. This creates a shortage of new and beginning farmers, driving the average age of the local farmer up. When older farmers retire, there are less young farmers to continue the farming process.
How can farmers impact this cycle?
First, we shouldn’t demonize large farms. We should learn from them. Most large American farms are privately owned by individuals or families, which make very smart decisions.
Not every small farmer wants to grow in size—they just want to make a reasonable and sustainable living. Lessons can be learned from the larger farmer. Large farmers continuously analyze processes, embrace new ideas, and incorporate technology to increase efficiency and improve their operation. Smaller farmers can and should do this too!
In regards to wholesale readiness
Think about your post-harvest handling. Carefully review and chart your cooling, grading, processing, packing, washing, and cold storage processes. Ask a farmer friend or business consultant to challenge you on your steps to be efficient. Pay attention to details in this review process! Identify processes that are redundant and unnecessary. Eliminate them. Be aggressive in asking your input suppliers for cost saving opportunities.
How can food buyers impact this cycle?
- Look for small local farmers to do business with. Buy from them!
- Develop strong relationships with local farmers and encourage your friends to do the same.
- Learn about government efforts, regulations and policies that impact rural communities. This includes road repairs, healthcare accessibility and cost, water quality, chemical usage, and high speed Internet access and voice your opinion to legislative contacts.