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Henning 4148
03-10-2007, 02:10 PM
So I saw this report on TV last week. It was a report on an American farmer, age early sixties, running the farm with his son and the two families. Quite a big farm, highly mechanised (for European standards), machines a bit aged but running. Well, actually it wasn't about running the farm, the TV team came back to them several times over a period of a few years and it was about them fighting against loosing the farm they had lived on for fourty years. They lost. Their crops were grain and potatoes and they lost big time on the potatoes for a few years in a row. Resale market value at the fries factory in the end was something like 15 % of the cost of growing the stuff ... In the end, they couldn't get credit to buy the fuel anymore to run the pumps to water the new crop.

Is farming that bad in the USA at the moment? With processed food (like fries), of course the farmers have to face global competition, so I would guess fresh (unprocessed) food marketed locally isn't much of a topic anymore in the USA. (It still is in Europe, at least in my generation). Are big corporations stepping in, taking over the land and the farming, or is America simply loosing the means to feed itself?

Henning 4148
03-10-2007, 04:09 PM
Thank you, Donn, that is putting the topic into a bit more of a perspective. From those figures I would guess "wrong choices at an unsuitable time" may have had something to do with the failure covered in the report.

So, from your figures I would guess there is no wave of farmers having to give up in America right now. Perhaps Mr. Huisjen has something to add?

It's interesting that the French spend less of their income on food than the Germans because for the French good food is a very important part of their culture.

Bob Smalser
03-10-2007, 04:10 PM
Is farming that bad in the USA at the moment?

If you count my tree farms, I'm a 7th-generation farmer who is familiar with all the family farms back to 1850.

It may be bad now, but it's always been bad if long-term security was the critereon. My father couldn't make a living at it and became a shipwright and later a cemetery manager and tenant farmer. His father bought and lost two farms with stints at building construction in between. His father couldn't support his 13 children on his farm and hired them out early. And his father had the poorest piece of rocky upland I saw in all of your Kreis Heilbronn.

As a child I worked on family farms in two states, and had dozens of schoolmates and friends from neighboring truck, dairy, orchard, hay or greenhouse operations, probably only one or two of which are still in existence as family farms. The vast majority all went under, sold out, or both. Some made out well in areas of urban growth, most didn't. A harsh free enterprise system makes the family farm tough duty.

huisjen
03-10-2007, 04:10 PM
I suppose Tyson Foods is considered a family corporation? Or are we playing figures lie and liars figure? Let's talk in terms of acreage instead of pretending that me slaughtering a sheep or two a year for my own consumption is equivalent to Cargill Meats.

Henning, the truth is that even when farms are owned by the people who work them, the corporations then just own those people. Much farming is actually done by migrant labor, and the owners hire farm managers, who hire farm workers. Those owners hardly see the farm.

I was at a farmer's meeting at the Blue Hill Co-op a month ago, and the consensus among the farmers was that they make a pittance, but they'd rather be farming than stuck in a marketing cubicle somewhere. Most don't have health insurance. Most work much harder than I do. We all stay here in Maine year round. We try to be our own best customers and eat what we grow, as well as selling it. We are artisan farmers producing fresh veggies, mostly certified organic, for the local market. Our market gardens range between a half acre and maybe ten acres in production. Several there also have blueberry land to rake in August and do some livestock. Most didn't get into farming for the money, and couldn't have if we didn't start with something else. Most still have something else, like a spouse with a town job, or winter work as a carpenter.

Throughout much of America, a farm is an industrial landscape. Modern industry is focused on immediate profits, and damn the future. Soil is eroding in the midwest with nothing done to replenish it. Long gone are the days of crop rotations for feeding draft animals, whose manure would then be spread on the fields. Much of our midwestern grain is irrigated with fossil water. The water level in those wells continues to drop, and someday soon many of them will be going dry. In California, where most of the nations fresh produce comes from, the old desert soil, watered from the aquifer below it for the past century, has dropped, settling as the water is pumped from beneath it. As it has settled, the surface streams no longer point to the sea, and there are now some shallow saline lakes full of pesticides and excess fertilizer runoff. In the mountains, global warming is taking it's toll on the glaciers that fed the streams that provide what irrigation that doesn't come from underground.

Yes Henning. American agriculture is screwed.

Dan

peb
03-10-2007, 04:23 PM
Henning, the truth is that even when farms are owned by the people who work them, the corporations then just own those people. Much farming is actually done by migrant labor, and the owners hire farm managers, who hire farm workers. Those owners hardly see the farm.

Nothing is true about this statement. 2.1 million farms in the US, average size farm 400-500 acres. Less than 10% of farm assets are owned by non family farms.

Ya farms are getting bigger, but they are predominantly family farms and farmed by the family that owns them. Maybe more farms are leased these days because of retired farmers without sons who farm.

Is the economy of farming bad in the US now. No worse than usual. And not that bad. You can split farmers into 3 groups. 1/3 are good farmers and good business men. They do quite well. 1/3 are good farmers and so-so businessmen, they struggle, but normally make it. 1/3 are poor farmers and/or poor businessmen, these are the ones who tend to fail.

But the idea of the big corporate farm doing it all, just isn't reality outside the poultry and maybe the hog, and dairy business.

"Yes Henning. American agriculture is screwed."

Not at all true. I have immediate and extended family farming in both Texas and Iowa. Not the case at all.


Seems to be the week for a lot of ad informatino being posted in the bilge about US agriculture.

Bob Smalser
03-10-2007, 04:26 PM
...Yes Henning. American agriculture is screwed.



I spent a childhood listening to an identical story with minor variations from father, grandfather and uncles.

Like I said, times don't change. Neither does the clarity of crystal balls.

Henning 4148
03-10-2007, 04:28 PM
I had read about the fossil water and also, that it will eventually run out. When will it be gone and what will happen when it's gone? Certainly, agricultural production will drop significantly in the US, correct? Or is it just a small figure of production % that would be affected?

And if it runs out - gen modified grain able to be watered with salt water and then pump the stuff from the sea? But that would ruin the land for all other crops for some time. Or big industrial desalination for the water needed for the crop?

huisjen
03-10-2007, 04:29 PM
Take a look at this.

http://www.farmaid.org/site/PageServer?pagename=info_facts_corp

Dan

TimH
03-10-2007, 04:30 PM
http://www.themeatrix1.com/

S.V. Airlie
03-10-2007, 04:33 PM
I'm going to preface this with the fact that I have never been a farmer but have worked on dairy farms. A few things come to mind.

1) the expense of silos and modern equipment that has to be bought to meet the various regs and requirements of the Dept. of Ag. Last I heard, a silo ran about a million depending on size and that was a few years ago.

2) The youth, children of farmers ( in gen. ) do not want to carry on the business.

3) Regards to dairy, shipping prices have increased.

4) the buyout in the '80's sent many dairy farmers running to the bank to cash in.

5) meeting environmental requirements

I once chatted with the previous owner of Agway in Cooperstown. He told me that when he bought into Agways in the early 1960's, he had 400 dairy farms on the books. When he retired ( around 03 ), he had four.

Bob Smalser
03-10-2007, 04:34 PM
Take a look at this.

http://www.farmaid.org/site/PageServer?pagename=info_facts_corp

Dan

Charity for unsuccessful farmers. Fine.

We never got any, and that's probably the best thing that ever happened to me and the sons I produced.

huisjen
03-10-2007, 04:37 PM
Water: It'll be gone when it's no longer economically possible to drill deeper and pump harder. That will vary by region and by how fast it gets pumped. I don't have all the figures on hand, but it's the Oglalla aquifer, and it runs from Texas to the Dakotas. Most American grain is grown with it. Estimates range from "this summer" to "Jesus will have come back by then". I'd guess a decade or so, but as I said, I don't have current numbers.

Salt water instead? I highly doubt that. Without rain to wash the salt away, it becomes a salt flat, like parts of Utah, or those saline lakes in California.

Remember too that most nitrogen fertilizer is produced by a process that takes energy in the form of natural gas. An energy crunch will hit the ag sector like nothing ever before. Since the soil is being destroyed, yet kept in production with artificial N inputs, when the junkies can't get their fixes, the withdrawal may be shocking.

Dan

huisjen
03-10-2007, 04:41 PM
Colonel, you're pointing at the private aid for those who won't milk the system while ignoring the billions of dollars sent to those who do. I don't want charity. I want food to be priced based on what it costs to produce it. And I want the profits to go to those who farmed it, rather than ADM, price fixers to the world. Or Monsanto. Or Cargill.

Dan

TimH
03-10-2007, 04:45 PM
Back where I grew up, the farms have all been turned into subdivisions full of cookie cutter houses.


Scarecrow on a wooden cross, blackbird in the barn
Four hundred empty acres that used to be my farm
I grew up like my daddy did, my grandpa cleared this land
When I was five I walked the fence while Grandpa held my hand
CHORUS
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow
This land fed a nation, this land made me proud
And son I'm just sorry there's no legacy for you now
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow
The crops we grew last summer weren't enough to pay the loan
Couldn't buy the seed to plant this spring and the Farmers Bank foreclosed
Called my old friend Schepman up to auction off the land
He said John it's just my job and I hope you understand
Well calling it your job ol' hoss sure don't make it right
But if you want me to I'll say a prayer for your soul tonight
And Grandma's on the front porch with a Bible in her hand
Sometimes i hear her singing, "Take me to the Promised Land."
When you take away a man's dignity he can't work his fields and cows
There'll be blood on the scarecrow, blood on the plow
Blood on the scarecrow, blood on the plow
Well there's ninety-seven crosses planted in the courthouse yard
Ninety-seven families who lost ninety-seven farms
I think about my grandpa and my neighbors and my name
And some nights I feel like dyin' like that scarecrow in the rain
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow
This land fed a nation, this land made me proud
And son I'm just sorry they're just memories for you now
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow
THis land fed a nationk this land made me proud
And son I'm just sorry they're just memories for you now
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow

Bob Smalser
03-10-2007, 04:55 PM
Colonel, you're pointing at the private aid for those who won't milk the system while ignoring the billions of dollars sent to those who do. I don't want charity. I want food to be priced based on what it costs to produce it. And I want the profits to go to those who farmed it, rather than ADM, price fixers to the world. Or Monsanto. Or Cargill.

Dan

Fine. I support charities, too. And I agree that price supports are artificial and often unfair.

But I also believe the US Constitution wasn't written to guarantee you a free ride of your choosing, and to do so has worse consequences than unfair price supports. In timber I'm as much or more a victim of the market as any farmer, but I help make my operation viable by exploiting the vulnerabilities of city folks who enact various environmental laws by staying on top of and taking hard-nosed advantage of those laws and programs. If I still had one of the old family farms, I'm sure I'd be doing the something similar, and with more marketing opportunities close to urban areas.

S.V. Airlie
03-10-2007, 05:04 PM
Bob.
Perhaps I am missing something here. Again, at least with dairy farmers. The regs put on them by various fed agencies are not of the farmer's choosing. To produce milk and sell it is and to make a living through this process is of their choosing. The requirements and the demands are seperate issues as are the environmental issues ( removal of waste etc. )
I grew up drinking what would be called "raw" milk. I'm still here. And yet, dairy farmers at least are or appear to be pushed out of their professions because of regulations they, as individuals, can not afford to meet. Hence, the consolidation of farms to make ends meet.
For whatever reason, I consider tree farming a bit differently than owning and operating a farm such as a dairy farm.

TimH
03-10-2007, 05:14 PM
Not only that, but if people respected loggers as much as farmers, they would be putting together concerts to help out wayward loggers. Logging is just another profession that can be easily replaces by going out, re-training and getting into a new field. Farming is a way of life.

it wasnt simply "charity for unsuccessful farmers" There was a lot more going on.






On September 22, 1985 artists including Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Billy Joel, Bon Jovi, Van Halen and Foreigner performed at the first Farm Aid concert in Champaign, Illinois. The show was a success, with 80,000 people packing an outdoors stadium in spite of inclement weather. The Nashville Network televised the event, in which 112 acts performed. As conceived by founders Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp, Farm Aid's purpose was to heighten public awareness about the plight of the American farmer. All proceeds were channeled through grants to support farm organizations and provide food and legal assistance to struggling farm families.
http://eightiesclub.tripod.com/1x1.gif
In the 1980s the American farmer was confronted by a crisis more severe than any since the Great Depression. Many who depended on agriculture for their livelihood faced financial ruin. Some broke under the strain of economic disaster. In Hills, Iowa a farmer killed his banker, his neighbor, his wife, and then himself. Near Ruthton, Minnesota a farmer and his son murdered two bank officials. In South Dakota's Union County, a Farmers Home Administration (FmHA) official who couldn't hold up under the pressure of his job killed his wife, daughter, son and family dog before committing suicide.
http://eightiesclub.tripod.com/1x1.gif
Lowered trade barriers coupled with record Soviet purchases of American grain resulted in a sharp increase in agricultural exports during the 1970s. Farm incomes and commodity prices soared, as did land values. Conveniently low interest rates persuaded many farmers to go deeply into debt on the assumption that commodity prices and land values would continue to rise. But the agricultural "boom" couldn't last forever. By the early 1980s tight money and high interest rates had burst the speculative bubble. Farmland value declined 60 percent in some areas between 1981 and 1985. Many farm operators found it impossible to retire their debts as fast as their assets declined. Record harvests led to overproduction, which forced prices down. Federal price supports kept American farm exports so costly that the U.S. lost a significant share of the international market. (Agricultural exports declined 20 percent between 1981 and 1983.) The strong dollar and Jimmy Carter's grain embargo to punish the Soviet Union for its invasion of Afghanistan didn't help matters. As he watched profits drop 36 percent between 1980 and 1986, the farmer who had aggressively indebted himself in the Seventies realized he was in grave financial jeopardy. Farm foreclosures rose dramatically despite a two-year moratorium on such action by the FmHA. The crisis had a ripple effect, negatively impacting farm-related industry and rural community businesses.

peb
03-10-2007, 05:16 PM
I had read about the fossil water and also, that it will eventually run out. When will it be gone and what will happen when it's gone? Certainly, agricultural production will drop significantly in the US, correct? Or is it just a small figure of production % that would be affected?

And if it runs out - gen modified grain able to be watered with salt water and then pump the stuff from the sea? But that would ruin the land for all other crops for some time. Or big industrial desalination for the water needed for the crop?

Another overstated problem. And my family farm is affected by this, so I know what I am talking about. Vast majority of US agriculture is not depended on the Ogallala aquifer (the primary "fossil water" used in US farming). Where it is and it runs low, farmers change. We went from primarily corn and vegetables to hay, wheat, cotton, and cattle. Water's still there.

Bob Smalser
03-10-2007, 05:20 PM
The regs put on (dairy farmers) by various fed agencies are not of the farmer's choosing.

... I consider tree farming a bit differently than owning and operating a farm such as a dairy farm.



Sure. But no different than dairy farming or grain farming with price supports compared to close-in truck farms producing high-end veggies for restaurants, or greenhouse operations producing cut flowers. Not the specifics, just the range of difference.

In timber, I have zero control of my market...who I sell to...unless I mill the logs, and then I generally have to meet (expensive) government grading standards for any product except trim.

Like your dairy farmer, I also have no control over government regulations, and they are severe, denying me access to almost 20% of my standing timber worth a lot of money. Timber owners consolidate for the same reason dairy farmers do, and I turned down serious buy-out offers annually before I solved most of the govenment problems using land trusts. Any innovations I apply (like trusts) are directed toward just getting back what the government has already taken away without compensation, and geared toward making this the legacy farm my family never had. If timber was my only source of income, the government would have put me out of business long ago, but 7 generations of failed or marginal family farms taught me at an early age not to put my eggs all in one basket.

Sure it's different. But then again maybe not as much as you think.

peb
03-10-2007, 05:20 PM
Take a look at this.

http://www.farmaid.org/site/PageServer?pagename=info_facts_corp

Dan

Give me a break. Your relying on FarmAid for information. That is a joke. Farmers think of it as a joke.

Lets try the USDA

http://www.ers.usda.gov/StateFacts/US.HTM#FC

This link will give you a good idea of farming in the US. And based on my personal experience, it seems pretty accurate.

peb
03-10-2007, 05:23 PM
Bob.
Perhaps I am missing something here. Again, at least with dairy farmers. The regs put on them by various fed agencies are not of the farmer's choosing. To produce milk and sell it is and to make a living through this process is of their choosing. The requirements and the demands are seperate issues as are the environmental issues ( removal of waste etc. )
I grew up drinking what would be called "raw" milk. I'm still here. And yet, dairy farmers at least are or appear to be pushed out of their professions because of regulations they, as individuals, can not afford to meet. Hence, the consolidation of farms to make ends meet.
For whatever reason, I consider tree farming a bit differently than owning and operating a farm such as a dairy farm.


Dairy farming is one area where very large scale has taken over. The number of small dairies has really gone done. And the number of giant ones has gone up significantly.

S.V. Airlie
03-10-2007, 05:31 PM
Bob.
You are more than likely correct ( you have experience ). However, tree farms do not need
to deal with feed ( fert. perhaps ), food ( fert. perhaps ), waste removal ( tree waste ( stumps etc. ) can be sold for firewood. ). They do not need barns, out buildings, milking machines, pasturizing equip., holding tanks, silos, etc.
They both need land. They both need and have to deal with transportation.
I admit, I would rather sit back and watch trees grow even with the regs. than run a dairy farm, cut hay, bale it, store it, etc. and discover that any profits are gonna be chewed up.
Bottom line, farming sucks. It does not matter what kind but dairy farming is more, at least to me, labor intensive ( on a day to day basis ) than tree farming.

Bob Smalser
03-10-2007, 05:41 PM
...I would rather sit back and watch trees grow even with the regs. than run a dairy farm, cut hay, bale it, store it, etc. and discover that any profits are gonna be chewed up.


Drop buy and you can have the easy jobs of digging out and burning 10,000lb stumps and mountains of slash for their sweetening value to the soil, recontouring and replanting skid trails, pruning standing second logs 60' up wearing your climbing irons, and clearing brush and pioneer trees prior to replanting.

Meanwhile, I'll skid, buck and mill the winter blowdowns. That way you can acquire some conditioning before you have to lift between 15 and 20 thousand pounds of wet boards and wane between your knees and shoulders daily. ;)

S.V. Airlie
03-10-2007, 05:49 PM
Bob. Please don't misunderstand me. I sense my last comment on my post sums it up. Farming is a bitc.....

Bob Smalser
03-10-2007, 06:04 PM
Bob. Please don't misunderstand me. I sense my last comment on my post sums it up. Farming is a bitc.....

And no days off for rain....just for high winds like today.

You can watch the trees grow on your breaks. ;)

Timber operations have buildings and equipment to maintain, books to keep, government permits and inspectors do deal with, and money worries just like any other farmer or business owner. If you think business problems and hard physical labor out in the elements is a bitch, then no kind of farming is for you. My colleagues out here and I kinda like it. The physical conditioning doesn't much offset the money worries that kill you early, but when I drop dead some day, I'd rather it be in the deep woods than in some stuffy cubicle.

S.V. Airlie
03-10-2007, 06:21 PM
Bob.
As someone who has baled hay and stored it from scratch, there is a quality of life that I can appreciate and perhaps under different circumstances would have been (ag.) worth following. Hoiwever, you are correct. After dipping my toes into the shallow end of the pool, I realized as a teen, farming was not my bag and it had nothing to do with the work, the pain in the back, the labor, the lack of days off, the lack of vacations. It was looking at it from the perspective that once in it, there is no such thing as a break.
I admire all farmers. I respect them all. And all farming practices have sim. issues and probems. A lot because of the gov. that supports many.
I've said my fill. Loggers have the machinery expenses as do any farmer regardless as to what he produces. All farmers have books to keep so that is a no brainer.
Of course a machine should last what 10 or fiftyeen years before a replacement is nec. A cow only lives so long. ( just a ribbing ).

No, farming is not for me. I'll be happy to keep two cows, sell a few trees at Christmas, produce a few pounds of honey and a few quarts of jam/jelly but beyond that, no way.

George Roberts
03-10-2007, 07:55 PM
I agree with Pebs's post way up on top. I can add...


My wife does/did tax returns for several family farms. Like all small businesses they make very little "taxable" income, but produce a nice income for the owners. When it comes time to sell the farm, there is a lot of profit.

carioca1232001
03-10-2007, 10:12 PM
It's interesting that the French spend less of their income on food than the Germans because for the French good food is a very important part of their culture.

I think this sort of statistic can be misleading.

In the many times that I have visited France, I was impressed by the relative abundance of food, everywhere, from Paris to the small towns in the interior.

I was in Germany just once in 1965, for a week in Munchen visiting my brother, en route to London in the company of my father. I was simply appalled at the cost of food. We drove one weekend to the Austrian Tyrol (Inssbruck and Salzburg), where good food was much cheaper in comparison.

The French most probably pay much less for good food than Germans do. Similarly, even poor Brazilians have access to fine meats and excellent fruits, foodstuffs which are relatively dear in Europe.

Again, the statistic of 51 % for India is probably right, considering a 1,2 billion population, 70 % of which is dirt farmers (subsistence level).

carioca1232001
03-10-2007, 11:15 PM
Bob.
As someone who has baled hay and stored it from scratch, there is a quality of life that I can appreciate and perhaps under different circumstances would have been (ag.) worth following. Hoiwever, you are correct. After dipping my toes into the shallow end of the pool, I realized as a teen, farming was not my bag and it had nothing to do with the work, the pain in the back, the labor, the lack of days off, the lack of vacations. It was looking at it from the perspective that once in it, there is no such thing as a break............

No, farming is not for me. I'll be happy to keep two cows, sell a few trees at Christmas, produce a few pounds of honey and a few quarts of jam/jelly but beyond that, no way.

It all started off as a suggestion from my father when he was visiting here in 1982:

"why don´t you import and plant premiere mango-trees from Pakistan, as the local mangoes (were !) pretty bad ? It is a great business, Europe simply gobbles up all of Pakistan´s production etc "

A couple of years later, some courses at the Rio State Institute of Agriculture and a sizable collection of books to account for it, a business plan was developed for a mixed fruit-cattle (beef) farm. The plan was shelved with the news of the coming of our first born.

The bug bit again in 2003 after having spent the first two years employed after accepting early retirement in 2001, including a 30-years-service handshake.

Luckily, I subsequently got myself ankle deep with the restoration of the boat ....which is very absorbing, a hole in the ground if you like, but not anywhere as much as a farm would have been.

Great to dream and fantasise about, but the reality is different, specially if you, or anyone in your family, have never done it before.

Peter Malcolm Jardine
03-10-2007, 11:25 PM
Farms have gotten bigger to offset the risk and the issues of reaching markets. If you want a real effect of cheap transport (cheap fuel) it has been the effect on the localized agricultural economy. diversity is down.... Why grow a huge number of diversified crops when you can fly asparagus in from Chile and still be cost competitive? It's too bad... It's now a lot harder to buy a diversity of products locally... My area was known for fruit and vegetable farming.... but big business farming and so on made it hard to compete.... not to mention the fact that many farmers were slow to embrace change, and it killed them. I think we take food production and availability for granted. Can you imagine what an african would think if you walked them in the doors of your local super grocery? They'd faint.

Mrleft8
03-10-2007, 11:29 PM
Rain on the scarecrow, blood on the plow.

carioca1232001
03-10-2007, 11:51 PM
...... I think we take food production and availability for granted. Can you imagine what an african would think if you walked them in the doors of your local super grocery? They'd faint.

Availability at what price ? Last year I saw heaven while looking at sea-food abundantly displayed in a Canadian supermarket, only to be told by the attendant that the prices shown referred to 100 grams of produce.

I fainted !

capt jake
03-11-2007, 12:06 AM
In my little corner of the world, we are covering prime farm land with warehouses and housing developments. A real shame! With more and more food being imported to us, what will happen if and when we really piss off the rest of the world?

Rick Starr
03-11-2007, 07:40 AM
...I want food to be priced based on what it costs to produce it. And I want the profits to go to those who farmed it, rather than ADM, price fixers to the world. Or Monsanto. Or Cargill.

Dan

If I can yank this statement out of context for a moment, I wholeheartedly agree with it. I would add that I'd rather pay for produce that costs to grow than patented g-m produce that resists everything and won't bruise on the long ride from california or wherever to the vi. I find that I am profoundly mistrustful of the corporate interest in our food supply.

huisjen
03-11-2007, 08:04 AM
Peb, anyone who thinks USDA is an unbiased source is just wrong. They're bought and paid for.

You see, the American system of food supply works just fine -- until it doesn't. This world has bigger shocks in store than we've expirienced lately. The dust bowl wasn't just a historical anomaly. Maybe "most" American agriculture doesn't depend on the Ogllala, but enough does that things will be real ugly when it dries up. The same goes for an energy shock. Having no artificial nitrogen would cripple us. And if there were a flu pandemic, could we afford to ship all this stuff around, even while we could hardly afford not to? Meanwhile, fewer and fewer varieties are being produced, all bred for specific traits, many patented by Monsanto, and all too vulnerable to diseases and pests that could wipe the whole crop out without carcinogenic pesticides. And in the 60 or so years since those pesticides were introduced, losses due to pests have increased.

Donnnn posted that bit of foolishness up top as though fewer farmers producing more is a good thing. But having brains and eyes on site is a good thing. Corporate owners far away don't see erosion gullies early, or notice sheet erosion at all. In the end they may not care, because depending where they are, they might have been thinking of selling that land off to grow a Mal*Wart and a subdivision anyway.

Food security should be thought of as part of national security, but then we're buying military uniforms from China too. I tell ya folks: Patriotism needs to start when you sit down to breakfast. Patriotism is love of your home. You need to look at what's on your plate and say, "I love this because it came from where I live, grown in my state, grown in my county, grown by my neighbor, grown in my own garden." The respite from shocks to the system is diversity, and a distributed agriculture is a diverse agriculture. There was a time when Maine was self sufficient in wheat, sugar, and about anything else we truely needed. We wouldn't have had citrus or bananas, and spices would need to come from away, but we did better than most in the '18 flu because we were able to look after ourselves. Now some will say that they can't because Maine is a rural state and theirs isn't, but states don't loose their rural character by chance. Maine is blessed with a cool climate and rocky soils. If we could do this here, there's no reason it couldn't be done elsewhere.

(Capt Jake, let me say one thing about your area. There's this thing that's pronounced "rural renewal" and spelled L-A-H-A-R.)

Dan

capt jake
03-11-2007, 08:34 AM
(Capt Jake, let me say one thing about your area. There's this thing that's pronounced "rural renewal" and spelled L-A-H-A-R.)

LOL! :) How true, how true. ;) I just hope I am at home when it happens (I live on a ridge) and not at work (in the valley). ;)

Tylerdurden
03-11-2007, 09:56 AM
huisjen I am with you. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure what is going on. When I was a kid coming to Maine or upstate NY I was always amazed to see farm after farm and the people working those farms. Now all you see are hayfields and barns rotting to collapse.
In the 1960's under federal mandate we held a 60 to 120 day supply of food and grain stocks, care to wonder what those numbers are today?
The strength of this nation disappeared with the family farmer and we are soon to learn that lesson in a big way. There is very limited amounts of heirloom seed available anymore, its all GM and hybrid.
Diversity comes from the lab not nature now.
I try to buy local as much as possible now because we need to save what little we have left. Once again we are pushed to be as cheap as possible in food costs, quantity not quality rules the day.
Just read the papers with all the contaminated food hitting the market. The day is coming when we will reap what we have sown.

peb
03-11-2007, 10:45 AM
The strength of this nation disappeared with the family farmer and we are soon to learn that lesson in a big way. There is very limited amounts of heirloom seed available anymore, its all GM and hybrid.


Guys, why all the gloom and doom? Does everything have to be miserable. The family farm has not dissappeared!!! Please go look at the report of farm statistics that I posted above. I know farming is a hard life. Always has been. But agriculture is rather alive and healthy in the USA right now.

Once again, I have extensive first hand knowledge of this.




Some highlights from the report:

Non-family owned corporate farms account for less than 1% of US farms. Land area under cultivation has not gone down in the 10 years of the report. Less than 5% of farms have more than 1000 acres. 67% of farms are fully owned by the farmer. 26% of farms are partly owned by the farmer. 95% of farms are individually owned/slole proprietorships. Most of the rest are family owned corporations.


As for food supply being part of national security. Pretty much since WWII all western governements have taken that stance. That is why there have been such extensive farm subsidies for so long. The governments want a surplus. No need to risk a food shortage. It has worked pretty well. A couple of bumps in the last 60 years, but not too many (late 70s,early 80s come to mind as the main one).


Finally,

Most of the GM seed is quite beneficial. But even if you don't like GM, what in the hell is wrong with hybrid seeds? My gosh, we have been doing that for 100 years.

TimH
03-11-2007, 11:09 AM
Too bad manufacturing capability isnt considered part of national security.

carioca1232001
03-11-2007, 11:26 AM
Guys, why all the gloom and doom? Does everything have to be miserable. The family farm has not dissappeared!!! Please go look at the report of farm statistics that I posted above. I know farming is a hard life. Always has been. But agriculture is rather alive and healthy in the USA right now.



It is said of farmers in Brazil: 'Fazendeiros são chorões', in other words, farmers are cry-babies.

In the next breath, 'Quem não chora, não mama', those who do not cry, are not fed ! ;)

huisjen
03-11-2007, 11:58 AM
Peb, you can go on proclaiming your credibility, and as long as you go on spouting what we know to be either false or skewed, I won't believe you.

I say again: counting small farms on the same footing as large corporate farms, then comparing the number of farms of each sort, doesn't cut it. Quit trying to justify agribusiness megaconglomerates by saying that backyard chicken keepers outnumber them. Your site says that in 2002, 51% of farms were 1-99 acres. Call that a mean (roughly) of 50 acres (which is probably higher than actual), times 51%, equals 2550 acre percentage points. (Sorry about the odd units.) Then we go to the 3.7% holding 2000 or more acres, or in excess of three square miles. Lets assume, for arguements sake, an average size of 3000 acres within that catagory, which is probably lower than actual, because this size farm gets up into the 50 square mile size in places. That's 11,100 acre percentage points. Now it's hard because I'm just guessing at the median size within each statistical bin. However, farmland ownership is clearly dominated by the big guys.

Want to play that game again with income? You'll get the same sort of results. And the big guys and processors control the comodity markets. Their interest is in squeezing out the competition, preferably getting the little guys to sell out to them at a pittance.

Next, don't kid yourself into thinking that Cargill, ADM, DuPont, and Monsanto are in the buisness of promoting national security. They aren't. They're in the business of making money for their stockholders and will cut of their noses to spite their faces if that's what the bottom line dictates. Tyler brought up the issue of how much grain we have to carry us through between harvests. I don't have the number on hand, but I'm pretty sure it isn't 60 days any more. And those big money interests are the ones who pay the lobbyists that shape our ag bills.

What's wrong with hybrids? Not much, in and of themselves. But a good open polinated variety, well adapted to local conditions ("heirloom"), can often compeat quite well with the F1. And hybrids encourage dependance on the seed houses that, like most other facets of agriculture, are being consolidated into fewer and fewer hands. Hybrids discourage diversity and local food soverignty.

GM is more of the same, plus it's a way for plant patent holding corporations to squash the little (relatively speaking) guy who doesn't want to play their game. All they have to do is spread some of their GM canola on a corner of his field then sue him for posessing some of their genetic polutants. And the single biggest thing GM is used for is increasing pesticide resistance, so they can sell more poison to leach into the wells and lakes and rivers.

So let's recap:
Water resources are a problem.
Soil conservation is a problem.
Worn out soils on artificial-N life support are a problem.
Paving over farmland is a problem.
Seedstock diversity is a problem.
Pesticide contamination of groundwater is a problem.
Increased pesticide resistance is a problem.
Extinction of local polinator populations due to pesticides is a problem.
AND: Extinction of the small farmer, due to the feds saying get big or get out, means that those who end up owning the farms are either very rich families or corporations. When you're working the very rich family model, I'd bet that their financial lending institution is heavily involved, making them not so rich afterall, and more than a little vulnerable.

Dan

Leon m
03-11-2007, 02:28 PM
The way I see it from my neck of the woods...Is milk prices havn't moved hardly at all since the seventies(cause thats the way Craft wants it) so farmers started getting the the idea that the way to make money is high production. So they mortgaged the family farm built huge dairy barns bought million dollar tractors , and now produce tons of milk per day ,and manure that they can't get rid of. I see these giant dairies going up all the time these days ,and I just shake my head at the thought of these guys cutting each others throats . Cause everytime a new one goes up they're just going to drive the price of milk down till eventually there is so much overproduction a great many of them will go belly up.
Not to mention the quality of milk they produce is crap...These cows spend there entire lives locked in a stantion eating crap feed and be shot up with antibiotics and horemones never once getting to set a hoove on green pasture...there should be a law against it !...the stuff is not fit for human consumption.
But hey...its progress right ?...No it's just another good thing ruined by corparate greed...Thank you CRAFT .
I've watched the sucessful family farm erode to nothing in just my life time...many of those people are very close friends...the farms were in their families since this state was settled...I've watched old men cry as their lives were auctioned away.
All this so Craft(and others) can make a cheap pizza and a record profit...aint America grand !?!?!

George Roberts
03-11-2007, 05:17 PM
Perhaps Wisconsin can produce enough milk to meet her own processing needs but

1) tries to produce for other states also,

or

2) chooses to not produce.

I used to know something about how prices are set. But the market is not free and is not based on supply or demand.

TimH
03-11-2007, 05:39 PM
I thought it was Kraft...

peb
03-11-2007, 08:45 PM
Water resources are a problem.
I have covered this. You are from Maine. How much do you know about the Ogallala Aquifer. It is running dry. It is a problem for my family. It is NOT a significant problem for US agriculture. Only 11% of US cultivated land is irrigated. Maybe half of that is the Ogallala (maybe). Don't worry about it.




Soil conservation is a problem.
Worn out soils on artificial-N life support are a problem.


These repeated claims are actually an insult to the American farmer. The soil on our family farm is in as good as shape as it was 70 years ago. Our WBF member, George Jung, who is a farmer in South Dakota agreed with me. My relative's farms in Iowa have outstanding soil. Where is your evidence to the contrary?


Paving over farmland is a problem.

A way overstated problem. In 1992 we had 2,262,440,000 acres of farmland. In 2002 we had 2,263,960,000. An insignificant change in 10 years.



Seedstock diversity is a problem.

In all my years around farmers, I have never heard of this being a problem. You are the first who had pointed it out to me. After seeing how wrong you are on other agricultural issues, I don't put much stock in your opinion.


Pesticide contamination of groundwater is a problem.
Increased pesticide resistance is a problem.
Extinction of local polinator populations due to pesticides is a problem.

I don't think so. Do you have any real evidence.


AND: Extinction of the small farmer, due to the feds saying get big or get out,

It is just not true. The government statistics do no bear this out. Any trip to any small town throughtout the heartland can tell you the same thing. Are farmers bigger? Yes. Probably fifity years ago the average size farm was 200 acres. Now it is 450 acres. So there are less people in these small towns. But farms are still family owned and family operated.


Finally, I never said ADM, or cargill had anything to do with National Security.

Overall, besides a reference to Farm Aid's website, you have show absolutely no evidence. And as I said, Farm Aid is a joke.

Andrew Craig-Bennett
03-12-2007, 06:29 AM
This is interesting, from the UK, where we have a rather similar debate. (No farmers in my family now, and there won't be any more, of course - farming is a one way ticket. Nobody went bust, but three men retired and were not followed by their children - all dairy/mixed farmers in Cheshire and Warwickshire)

I was interested by Donn's figures for the percentage of household income spent on food. I realise that these can be presented in many ways, but in Britain we are often told that our "cheap food" tradition sets us apart from Europe. If Donn's figures are to be believed, the USA is much further down that road, with 10% to our 22%, so I wonder what distortions are creeping in - food stamps, perhaps?

The road to salvation for the British family farmer is preached as being direct marketing, often in conjunction with organics. There is a running battle between the dairy farmers and the supermarkets on (non-organic) milk pricing. I suspect that the direct sales route is available to very few.

huisjen
03-12-2007, 07:11 AM
Wow.

You know Peb, that point by point rebuttal is almost as clear and convincing as Sam's usual inputs.

Dan

TomF
03-12-2007, 08:01 AM
It all depends on what you see as legitimate sources of information, and legitimate yardsticks for performance.

A girlfriend in university came from a "successful" market gardening family. Successful because of proximity to markets, good product choices, greenhouse work in tomatos and cukes, all supported by synthetic fertilizers. Neither child wanted the family business - probably because between the 12-18 hour days put in by both parents, they made the equivalent of one "professional's" income.

Dan, I'm with you. Frankly, so were my girlfriend's parents ... their production was unsustainable without artificial fertilizers, and they were worried about seed diversity too. While they used F1 hybrids for most plantings, they were well aware that a general reduction in the number of varieties grown produced vulnerability to disease, in the same way that monoculture does.

Increasingly, I buy locally grown fruits/veggies, meats and grain products, paying a premium for the goods. I'm willing and mostly able to, and am pleased to know that the farming practices used are improving soil structure and fertility, rather than depleting it.

Popeye
03-12-2007, 08:24 AM
'Mineral nutrient depletion continues to be a problem in U.S. farm, forest and range soils. This depletion is caused by natural processes, such as weathering and erosion, particularly in the sensitive soils of the southeastern United States. More significantly, throughout the United States, human accelerated depletion is caused by the production of high yield crops and livestock grazing. Those activities cause nutrients to be removed and organic matter to be depleted from the soil's natural cycling system. Moreover, when commercial growers attempt to replenish the soils of only some mineral nutrients by fertilization they may exacerbate mineral nutrient imbalances. '

______________________
Michael Karr, Ph.D.
ARCPACS Certified Professional Soil Scientist


references:



1. Bohn, H.L., McNeal, B.L. and G.A. O'Connor. 1985. Soil Chemistry. Wiley-Interscience. New York. pp. 5-13; 68-80, 87 - 90. 116 -120.
2. Chadwick, O. A, and R. C. Graham. 2000 Pedogenic Processes. In. Sumner, Malcom E., Ed. 2000. Handbook of Soil Science. CRC Press, New York. pp E45-47; E51-52; E57-62; E65-68.
3. Follett, R.F. and B.A. Stewart. 1985. Soil Erosion and Crop Productivity. American Society of Agronomy, Inc., Madison,WI., pp. 12 -15; 34 - 47; 57 - 62; 339 - 342.
4. MacCarthy, P. Malcolm, R.L., Clapp, C.E. and P.R. Bloom. 1990. Humic Substances in Soil and Crop Sciences, Selected Readings. American Society of Agronomy, Inc. Madison WI. pp 2-3. 180-182.
5. Peterson, G.W., Nizeyimana, E., Miller, D.A. and B.M. Evans. 2000. The Use of Soil Databases in Resource Assessments. In. Sumner, Malcom E., Ed. 2000. Handbook of Soil Science. CRC Press, New York. pp H76-77.
6. Singer, M. J., and S.Ewing. 2000. Soil Quality. . In. Sumner, Malcom E., Ed. 2000. Handbook of Soil Science. CRC Press, New York. pp. G284; G286, G287-293.
7. Tisdale, S. L., Nelson, W. L., Beaton, J.D. and J. L. Havlin. 1993. Soil Fertility and Fertilizers, 5th ed. Macmillan Publishing Co., New York.pp 10-11; 45 - 47; 78-79; 190;230-31; 266 -267; 292,;296; 304;320; 327;332 -333;337 - 339; 342-343; 346; 561-572., 591- 594; 605-606.
8. Wilkinson, S.R., Grunes, D.L., and M. E. Sumner. 2000. Nutrient Interactions in Soil and Plant Nutrition. In. Sumner, Malcom E., Ed. 2000. Handbook of Soil Science. CRC Press, New York. pp D89 - D104**.
9. Wysocki, D.A., Schoeneberger, P. J. and H. E. LaGarry. 2000. Geomorphology of Soil Landscapes. . In. Sumner, Malcom E., Ed. 2000. Handbook of Soil Science. CRC Press, New York. p.E8 - E10.




paper cited (http://www.americanlongevity.net/misc/mineral_depletion.php)

peb
03-12-2007, 09:04 AM
Wow.

You know Peb, that point by point rebuttal is almost as clear and convincing as Sam's usual inputs.

Dan

What do you not believe about the US Department of Agriculture statistics? Which ones are wrong and where are your references?

If it is unconvincing, do something besides spout off your preconceived notions.

peb
03-12-2007, 09:09 AM
'Mineral nutrient depletion continues to be a problem in U.S. farm, forest and range soils. This depletion is caused by natural processes, such as weathering and erosion, particularly in the sensitive soils of the southeastern United States. More significantly, throughout the United States, human accelerated depletion is caused by the production of high yield crops and livestock grazing. Those activities cause nutrients to be removed and organic matter to be depleted from the soil's natural cycling system. Moreover, when commercial growers attempt to replenish the soils of only some mineral nutrients by fertilization they may exacerbate mineral nutrient imbalances. '

I am not saying there are not farms that have problems with their soil. Most farmers have at one point taken on another farm and have had problems with it. But, farmers know how to take care of this. They rotate crops, they fertilize, the do soil tests. Use manure, use composts, etc. etc. etc.


At the end of the day, these arguments fall apart on one point:
If all the soil is so bad, how can farmers continue togrow such high yielding crops. Those crops take nutrients. As I said in a previous post. Many farmers can grow corn year after year and only add nitrogen. No other fertilizer. This would be impossible if the land was so horrible.

Popeye
03-12-2007, 09:21 AM
At the end of the day, these arguments fall apart on one point:

If all the soil is so bad, how can farmers continue togrow such high yielding crops. Those crops take nutrients. As I said in a previous post. Many farmers can grow corn year after year and only add nitrogen. No other fertilizer. This would be impossible if the land was so horrible. where is your evidence crops contain a proper balance of minerals and nutrients ?

huisjen
03-12-2007, 09:54 AM
What do you not believe about the US Department of Agriculture statistics?

It's not a question of those numbers being wrong. It's the fact that those numbers are meaningless. They are literally apples to oranges, or big corn and soy to small organic. They list acres in production only roughly. They don't define "family farm" or worse, "family corporation". Does this mean that Al Gore is a farmer, because his family owns a farm? Does this mean Shrub is a rancher because he goes to Texas and plays at cutting brush? How about my sister, who keeps backyard chickens? Is she a farmer? Does a paralegal keeping chickens offset the fact that Cargill keeps chickens too? What do these size catagories mean when the largest one is 2000+ acres, yet there's a cotton farm in California with 200,000 acres? I did the best I could to make sense of the USDA numbers, which were set up to make it look as level as possible. Yet I could still see that the big guys own most of the land.

Popeye contributed something meaningful and to the point. So did Leon. You haven't.

Dan

Popeye
03-12-2007, 09:59 AM
If all the soil is so bad, how can farmers continue togrow such high yielding crops.

you are contradicting yourself , the article i posted a snippet from mentions high yield crops causing soil depletion

Andrew Craig-Bennett
03-12-2007, 10:01 AM
A small point, Andrew:

The statistic I posted is percentage of disposable income, not household income.

Disposable income = post-tax individual income.

Household income = pre-tax earnings of all household residents over 15 years of age.


Thanks, Donn. I've read your comments on bookselling with some interest, also, having friends either in, or retired from, that business.

In my small town we have one good local independent which is aping the "big box" stores rather well (coffee shop in the store, separate-but-branded children's book shop across the road, surprisingly "accurate" selection of titles) but they have got to the point where most of their customers think they "might as well be a Waterstones", so would not notice if they became one!

We no longer have a secondhand bookshop; we all go to the Oxfam shop for that, now (and I would not have picked up the Shorter Oxford Dictionary for £8 in a "proper" secondhand bookshop!)

Anyway, back to the percentage of their disposable annual income that consumers spend on food:

U.S. consumers spend 10 percent of their disposable annual income on food.

Here is How Other Countries Stack Up:

Finland 16
France 18
New Zealand 20
Germany 21
Australia 21
United Kingdom 22
Italy 23
Spain 25
Japan 26
Israel 26
South Africa 28
Mexico 33
India 51

I do find it very difficult to believe that the French spend 4% less of their disposable income on food than the British do; in fact I find it quite impossible to believe that, on the basis of my own visits to France, down the decades. If I go into a Carrefour, in France, the range and quality of foodstuffs available is far better than it is in a Tesco, in England (I've selected the two largest supermarket chains in each country).

peb
03-12-2007, 10:24 AM
Dan,

Now we are getting somewhere. It seems like you did not read or do not understand all of the statistices and terms. Fine, nothing wrong with that.

The "Tenure of farms" from the USDA's webd site means "Tenure of Principal Operator". It gives the stats on the relationships betwen the actual farmer and the owner ship of the land. It is very important.

In 2002, the principal operator was the owner of the farm 67% of the time. Whereas in 1992, it was 57%. Not this is a good trend. More farmers owning their own land!!! The farmer was the part owner a further 26% of the time. And in 2002, the farmer was a tenant only 7% of the time (down from 11% in 1992, another good trend).


And your point about the big guys owning most of the land is just not supported by fact. If as you say there are some really big farms in excess of 200000 acres, we can assume that the median size farm is smaller that the average size farm. Fine. How much differnce, I bet you would be surprised. Especially considering how over 91% of the land is on 1000 acre farms or less (small to mid-size farm size).

huisjen
03-12-2007, 10:24 AM
Just doing a brief Google of "Corporate control of farm land", I see that four packing companies control 81% of the beef industry. Five hog processors control 63% of that market. In addition to direct ownership of the land, Agribuisness, through the markets, controls a great deal more.

Tell me Peb, how many different places do you have to sell your cotton? How much control over the price do you have?

There are independent potato farms here in Maine where the farmers are told what variety they will grow, what they will poison the land with in growing them, and, eventually, what price they will receive for their harvest. Sure they own the land. But if the market is dictated by the only processor in the area (like in Leon's observations of WI dairy and Kraft), the farmers are essentially serfs. Functionally, the land is "owned" by the processor, despite what the registry of deeds may say.

Dan

huisjen
03-12-2007, 10:30 AM
Especially considering how over 91% of the land is on 1000 acre farms or less

I don't see that. I don't know what line you're looking at. What I see is that 91.6% of the farms are smaller than 1000 acres, but that says nothing about the percentage of our nations farmland they hold.

Dan

peb
03-12-2007, 10:33 AM
Just doing a brief Google of "Corporate control of farm land", I see that four packing companies control 81% of the beef industry. Five hog processors control 63% of that market. In addition to direct ownership of the land, Agribuisness, through the markets, controls a great deal more.

Tell me Peb, how many different places do you have to sell your cotton? How much control over the price do you have?


Now your changing the subject. But to answer you. We ship our cotton to the gin. It gets put into bales and graded. Electronic bidding on bales of cotton come in from all over the world. There are a lot of buyers. On top of that, if prices are too low, the government subsidy kicks in to guarantee a minimum price. On top of that the government funds part of the crop insurance premium which helps take care of the risk of hail destroying a cotton crop.

As for cattle, those four packers do not control the beed industry. I have also seen the price negotiations between the feedlot operator and the packer. It goes both ways. It is pretty competitive. At the end of the day, the market decides. Sometimes positively, sometimes negatively. In general, the futures board can take a lot of the market risk out of livestock for farmers. But the farmer or rancher does not feed out cattle in feedlots. Those are normally investors. Farmers who raise cattle from either a cow/calf operation of a backgrounding/stocker opteration, sell their cattle to the feed yards. Lots of options to sell to. Not just 4 buyers as you imply.

Neither the cotton or beef system of marketing is that unfavorable to the farmer.


Finally:
Large agribusiness does NOT OWN THE LAND!!! Show me on ADM's publicly released and very detailed financial statments where the farmland is located on their balance sheet.

huisjen
03-12-2007, 10:38 AM
It doesn't matter if they own the land or not if the farmers have no say in setting the price for the crops they produce. Why own the farm when it's cheaper to just own the farmers?

If you like such a poor system, it just shows that some farmers, like other strains of livestock, have been selected for docility, as well as a good slaughter weight.

Dan

Andrew Craig-Bennett
03-12-2007, 10:43 AM
I'm interested by the figures for the average size of farms in the USA. To my surprise, they are not much different to the average size of farms in Britain.

I'll assume that, in general, farms mainly growing cereals are larger than farms in the dairy / mixed sector, as is certainly the case here in Britain.

But the minimum viable herd is quite a bit bigger than it was, unless you are into organic. 70 cows won't do you any good, now, unless you are making your own cheese (surprising just how many farmhouse cheese makers we now have!)

huisjen
03-12-2007, 10:43 AM
Norman, farming should not be a business. Farming should be a living.

Dan

Andrew Craig-Bennett
03-12-2007, 10:49 AM
One should remember that ownership of farm land is attracted by the tax breaks and subsidies offered to the farmer, regardless of whether the landowner is the farmer himself, a rich individual seeking to avoid death duties, or a corporation seeking to tax shelter some income.

In Britain we seem to expect our farmers to "look after" the countryside; in the circumstances it seems reasonable to consider that the farmers have entered into some sort of contract with the townies who pay them some of their taxes to do so.

huisjen
03-12-2007, 10:59 AM
Husbandry includes economics, but has to be more than that. To husband the land requires no less love and care than the husbanding of a wife. It is not a business to be slipped into and out of like a street corner transaction. If you treat it that way, then the object of your attention isn't loved. It's just fucked, then thrown away, used up and wasted.

Functionally, corporate agribusiness is a top down control system. It lacks diversity. It lacks resiliance. Like Soviet agriculture, it will fail those who depend on it.

Dan

peb
03-12-2007, 11:22 AM
Call it a business, call it a living.... doesn't matter to me. It's an occupation, no more noble, nor less noble, than any other.... and it's subject to the same market conditions and constraints as any other. If a farmer can subsist by farming, terrific.... if he can't, and it's not due to any malevolence on the part of others, then he needs to find a different occupation.

Norman, for once, you are 100% correct in your assessment. Farming is a business like any other and should be treated that way. It is only more noble in one sense, and that is in the fact that as a whole it remains closer to the economic ideal of distributionism (ie people work for themselves and own their own means of production). But in this sense, it is no more noble than your consulting business.

peb
03-12-2007, 11:24 AM
you are contradicting yourself , the article i posted a snippet from mentions high yield crops causing soil depletion

No the article is self-contradicting. This is my point. It says that high yield farming is ruining the land. Yet the land continues to produce the high yield.

Andrew Craig-Bennett
03-12-2007, 11:38 AM
Thanks, Donn. I forsee an hour or two's Googling, some time this week, as I try to track down the European equivalents!

Certainly farming is a remarkably controversial subject, now. In my youth, it did not seem to be so, in Britain, where I maintained a considerable interest, for some years. We all, "barley baron" and family dairy farmer alike, seemed to be marching in step towards the sunlit uplands of ever higher yields, ever better stock welfare and a wonderful assortment of handy subsidies for capital investment, along with price maintenance...

Oops!

I was chatting to a friend, who is most definitely in the "barley baron" catgory, last Thursday. His family own and farm a significant chunk of coastal North Essex, and I would describe them as good farmers; he tells me they are thinking of deliberately breaching several miles of seawall and letting the land go back to salt marsh; the subsidy for doing that pays better.

Popeye
03-12-2007, 11:47 AM
No the article is self-contradicting. This is my point. It says that high yield farming is ruining the land. Yet the land continues to produce the high yield.

no , it says , soil nutrients and minerals are depleted for a variety of reasons , hy crops is one

its like if i ate all the vowels out of your bowl of alphaghetti , you still got food , just not food for effective writing

Leon m
03-12-2007, 12:34 PM
This little graph says a lot.

http://www.wisdairy.com/Upload/statistics/wi_dairy_farms_milk_production_30_05.jpg

huisjen
03-12-2007, 12:40 PM
Okay, here are some rough estimates based on the USDA numbers.

Total farmland, 2002 : 938 million acres

There are 1.9 million individuals - families - sole propriatorships, making 89.7% of the total, making the total number of farms to be 2.2 million.

Farms 1-99 acres - 51% of all farms, or 1.2 million farms
Farms 100-500 acres - 33% of all farms, or .75 million farms
Farms 500-1000 acres - 7.6% of all farms, or 172K farms
Farms 1000-2000 acres - 4.7% of all farms, or 100K farms

Assuming the mean for each statistical bin is the median (risky, but gives a ballpark number), we find the land occupied by each bin to be:

50 acre farms: 60 million acres.
250 acre farms: 187 million acres.
750 acre farms: 129 million acres.
1500 acre farms: 150 million acres.

(Since there are clearly more small farms than large ones, this probably overestimates the amount of land occupied by farms in each of these bins. The mean is almost certainly smaller than the median.)

These farms account for 96.3% of all farms, and own only about 56% of the farmland. So the median for the final bin, made of 81 thousand 2000+ acre farms, is about 5100 acres, which is just shy of eight square miles. Those 3.7% own the other 44%. If we add in the next bin, 1000-2000 acre farms, averaging just shy of 2.5 square miles, Then 8.4% of the farms have 60% of the land.

Now, if 89.7% are sole propriators (“family farms”), and yet the top 8.4% own 60% of the crop land, guess what percentage of that 8.4% is “family farms”? How many family farms, personally farmed by a couple of people with their kids, are over 2.5 square miles? How many are in the 8 square mile bin?

And that smallest farm size bin, of farms less than 100 acres (that’s me!), has 51% of the farms, but only 6.4% of the land.

Dan

huisjen
03-12-2007, 01:09 PM
...By the late 1970s, Ogallala water accounted for one-fifth of the irrigated area in the United States. A goodly chunk of the country's wheat, corn, alfalfa, and even cotton depend on it. Nearly 40 percent of the nations cattle drank Ogallala water and ate grain produced with it. Farmers drained it at a rate of a little under 1 percent per year in the late 1970s, drawing water 10 times faster than the aquifer could recharge under the best conditions. Many good livings came from this. Clarence Gigot, a rancher and farmer who probably used more Ogallala water than anyone else, made himself a multimillionare on the dry Sand-hills of southwestern Kansas. He applied center-pivot irrigation to raise grain and cattle on land no one else wanted and made it pay.

The end of this water boom is in sight. In the southern reaches of the High Plains, where exploitation first began, farmers soon had to go deeper and deeper to get it, and many found the costs did not justify the results. In northern Texas, irrigation declined after 1974 and in the High Plains generally, irrigation contracted after 1983. While farmers'decisions to irrigate or not depend on many things, such as energy cost and crop prices, the drawdown of the Ogallala played a large role. Since the late 1970s states have come to agreements about who gets how much Ogallala water, and extraction rates have stabilized. But they have not declined. Across the High Plains, 150,000 pumps work day and night durring the growing seasons. Farmers around Sublette, Kansas, figured in 1970 they had about 300 years' worth of water left. In 1980 they reckoned they had 70 years supply, in 1990 less than 30. Half the accessable water was gone by 1993, and hydrologists and farmers agree the bonanza will end in 20 or 30 years, more if conservation triumphs, less if there is another drought. While it took millennia to fill, the Ogallala's usefulness to humankind will almost surely last less than a century.

--J. R. McNeill, 2000, Somthing New Under the Sun: An environmental history of the twentieth-century world. , Norton, p 154.

A footnote points to Schwarz et al, 1990, "Water Quality and Flows." In The Earth as Transformed by Human Action, Cambridge University Press, p 253-70.

Tylerdurden
03-12-2007, 04:23 PM
Dan, I made a remark earlier of my observations of thirty years ago and what on sees now. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that things have changed dramatically. Of course the statistic throwers can pitch their numbers but good old common sense says they are full of ****e.

We live in a world now where accountants and statisticians work overtime to hide the truth. What they forget is the truth is obvious to those who can see and their bull****e isn't holding water any longer.

Like the old timers said "The devil is in the details" When the blind start throwing and demanding numbers I know some slight of hand is coming.

carioca1232001
03-12-2007, 05:04 PM
.......
I do find it very difficult to believe that the French spend 4% less of their disposable income on food than the British do; in fact I find it quite impossible to believe that, on the basis of my own visits to France, down the decades. If I go into a Carrefour, in France, the range and quality of foodstuffs available is far better than it is in a Tesco, in England (I've selected the two largest supermarket chains in each country).

Are food prices in supermarkets (of similar ranking) pretty much the same all over the EU ?

France (pre EU) always seemed much cheaper for foodstuffs than Britain for instance, with wines and cheeses taking the cake.

However if current food prices are nearly identical, it could be that the French, with their numerous bistros and cafés, eat out a lot more than the British.

huisjen
03-13-2007, 07:24 AM
I believe I mentioned the bee issue.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6438373.stm

Dan

emichaels
03-13-2007, 07:58 AM
The purpose of farming is to feed people and livestock, till now. We are growing grain products for an up and coming market for ethanol.

I can only comment on my cousins 8000 acre farm in Nebraska. It is a family business and they hire Legal immigrants to live and work on the farm. They have had bad years when the rains don't come enough. Though they are doing well enough that each of the grandkids just reach marrying age are millionaires. They own 4 tractor/ trailers and enormous field machines, three of the boys are pilots and use GPS guided fertilization techniques that is distributed from one of the three planes they own and opperate. In the spring when they start the big machines and head to the field, they run 24/7, never stopping till the crops are in, or it rains and they have to sit.

One thing they did different than many farmers is a legacy/cultural difference from Old Europe vs American way of doing business.

They paid cash for each and every pc of machinery so as to never be held by the banks in bad times. Now land of course, is bought on credit, secured by more land.

The cost of all the enormous machinery is what drives most farmers out of business, according to my Uncle. That and the fact that a lot of farmers didn't change with the times and don't know how to produce the high volumn crops without depleting the soil.

Its an intricate balancing act with nature, trying to get all you can from the land and not deplete the land to the point that it changes the characteristics that you have come to know/cultivate.

They all have at least a bachelors degree so they could come back to the farm and be as productive as possible.

Its a thinking mans game for sure.

Eric

Popeye
03-13-2007, 08:25 AM
saw a tv program a few nights ago , it was a piece produced about a local farmer , a small scale mom and pop outfit with a couple of hired hands , the final few closing shots was the farmers daughter (he retired and left her to run the farm) walking out into a field on a sunday morning to fill a dozen boxes with fresh cut broccoli for her roadside veggie stand

seemed to work

(http://media.cbc.ca:8080/viewsource/template.html?nuyhtg50nez69d5ht608ujsfe1fj4ejtuBre bd3oz6r49rafe1fj4e0EkBrem8l6wf) land and sea (http://www.cbc.ca/landandseanl/media/landsea.ram)

huisjen
03-13-2007, 02:52 PM
Eric, best regards to your cousin. It sounds like demanding work, yet I'm sure they feed a lot of people and can feel proud of what they've accomplished. Somehow, it being Nebraska, I assume corn, maybe in rotation with soy? I hope to stay closer to the model Popeye notes.

Peb has gotten awfuly quiet all of a sudden.

Dan

peb
03-13-2007, 03:06 PM
Eric, best regards to your cousin. It sounds like demanding work, yet I'm sure they feed a lot of people and can feel proud of what they've accomplished. Somehow, it being Nebraska, I assume corn, maybe in rotation with soy? I hope to stay closer to the model Popeye notes.

Peb has gotten awfuly quiet all of a sudden.

Dan

I have lost interest in the discussion. You guys have your mind made up that everything is screwed up and it doesn;'t matter what I say.

I will grant your last statitical model of land usage matches the data. But remain totally unconvinced about the horrible state of agriculture in the USA.

Heck, I saw above that someone above said it had gotten a lot worse in the last 30 years. This is an example of the absurd nature of most of ya'lls comments. 30 years ago was about the start of one true crisis moment in American agriculture since WWII and you think today is worse than the late seventies????

Nicholas Carey
03-13-2007, 06:00 PM
And that smallest farm size bin, of farms less than 100 acres (that’s me!), has 51% of the farms, but only 6.4% of the land.And many of those "farms" are quite likely tiny (1-10) acre "ranchettes" and the like that are farms in name only, either run as a hobby or have the fields are let out to another farmer to actually farm.

A better way to visual how farm ownership and control of the food supply is divvied up is to follow the money.

If you go to the ag subsidies database at http://www.ewg.org/farm/ (your tax dollars at work, much to the chagrin of the government and the Department of Agriculture), you'll see how skewed the distribution of agricultural subsidies are.

In 2005, for example, if you rank recipients by the amount of agricultural subsidies received:
The top 1% of recipients (15,223 "farmers") received 20% of subsidy payments ($4,186,687,110).
The top 5% of recipients (76,117 "farmers") received 48% of subsidy payments ($10,081,325,739).
The top 10% of recipients (152,234 "farmers") received 66% of subsidy payments ($13,792,182,743).
The top 20% of recipients (304,468 "farmers") received 83% of all subsidy payments ($17,421,794,654).The remaining 80% of all recipients (1,217,874 souls) of ag subsidies received just 17% of ag subsidy payments ($3,635,075,709).

The top recipient of farm subsidies in Indiana, Walker Place, received nearly $15,000,000 in subsidies between 1995 and 2005, paid out from 23 counties across 6 states. That's a helluva family farm:

Coles County , Illinois
Ford County , Illinois
Iroquois County , Illinois
Vermilion County , Illinois
Will County , Illinois
Edgar County , Illinois
Piatt County , Illinois
Benton County , Indiana
Fountain County , Indiana
Montgomery County , Indiana
Newton County , Indiana
Posey County , Indiana
Vermillion County , Indiana
Jasper County , Indiana
Parke County , Indiana
Tippecanoe County , Indiana
Warren County , Indiana
Vigo County , Indiana
Catahoula Parish , Louisiana
Natchitoches Parish , Louisiana
McCurtain County , Oklahoma
Tripp County , South Dakota
Red River County , Texas

huisjen
03-14-2007, 05:44 AM
Peb, I can tell you've lost interest in the discussion by your 14 minute response time. Please, don't take all this as a personal attack. It isn't. It's meant to be a wake up call that there are many threats, some probably insurmountable, to "business as usual" in Ag.

Dan

Popeye
03-14-2007, 06:53 AM
didn't say it was all screwed up , don't know either way as i am only a casual observer , suggest you read and study and absorb as much information as possible and make your own rational choices for your market conditions and farm management practices

if i had to guess (purely guess) small scale organic renewable smart farms will sustain and work longer in our environment and better than chemical quick blast mega maximum yield type philosophies

huisjen
03-14-2007, 07:33 AM
Yep. Just like dacha vegetable patches came through when Soviet planned economy Ag. failed. But then I'll never make millions doing this either.

Dan

Popeye
03-14-2007, 07:46 AM
But then I'll never make millions doing this either.


well thats the point , fisher /farmers have to work longer and harder for less, the true success story is being able to pass on the family farm / fishing license to the next generation and they get to carry the torch

some days you got it made and don't realize how good it is

TomF
03-14-2007, 07:55 AM
All depends what you think "rich" is.

I think it was Eliot Coleman who said that the famous Robert Burns poem "To a mouse" would never have been written in modern times. The "wee, sleekit cowrin' tim'rous beastie" would have been turned out of its home by the plough just the same ... but from 6 feet up inside an air conditioned tractor, the farmer wouldn't have noticed.

Popeye
03-14-2007, 08:11 AM
but then again if grand pappy had minded to start a hundred acre fruit orchard , i could have been pretty wealthy by now