“This implies a rapid and significant shift from conventional, monoculture-based and high-external-input-dependent industrial production toward mosaics of sustainable, regenerative production systems that also considerably improve the productivity of small-scale farmers,” the report concludes.
Years ago, I traveled extensively across the country, and enjoyed stopping in bars to try out the local beer. Living in Golden, Colorado, I was familiar with our own local beer, the subject of bootlegging to other states and featured in several movies. I even once carried a case of Coors onto a flight to Chicago —returning later with a case of Strohs. Over time, the regional beers either went national or disappeared. You could get Coors, Bud, Pabst Blue Ribbon, Miller and a few others just about anywhere, but seldom find a ‘local’ beer.
That same kind of consolidation and growth is impacting farmers, too. According to the Associated Press, “The latest Census of Agriculture shows the number of farms and ranches in the U.S. has fallen but the remaining operations are larger and are responsible for a higher percentage of agricultural sales.” Dan Nosowitz adds, “Of the over two million farms in the United States, just over 105,000 of them combine for 75 percent of sales, which goes along with the idea that consolidation is creating fewer, more powerful, larger farms.”
TechnologyWater reports a UN Commission on Trade and Development study notes, “Even as the United States government continues to push for the use of more chemically-intensive and corporate-dominated farming methods such as GMOs and monoculture-based crops, the United Nations is once again sounding the alarm about the urgent need to return to (and develop) a more sustainable, natural and organic system … Diversity of farms, reducing the use of fertilizer and other changes are desperately needed.”
The Census of Agriculture also notes, per Modern Farmer author Dan Nosowitz, that the number of farms and ranches is down, the average size is increased, and the average income is lower. In the old days they used to say, “Behind every successful farmer is a wife who works in town.” Possibly as a result of counting changes (now allowing spouses to be counted in the census), the number of women farmers and ranchers appears to be increasing.
It’s not clear that current trends in farming, including Big Food’s drive for profits, are sustainable. The UN Commission determined, “… major changes are needed in our food, agriculture and trade systems, with a shift toward local small-scale farmers and food systems recommended.”
Olivia Paschal has also noted the added negative effects of Trump’s trade war on farmers, “The trade war almost couldn’t have come at a worse time for the agricultural industry: Farm debt is on the rise, farm income is in a three-year trough, and the American Farm Bureau Federation’s chief economist said last month that many farmers are dependent on off-farm income to keep their operations running. But farmers can’t push pause on their crops to try to wait out the trade war—they’re at the beck and call of the planting and harvesting seasons.”
Farming is back-breaking, dirty work with long hours and low pay. If it sounds like something you’d like to do, you’re probably crazy. Luckily, there are quite a few crazy people out there that get enough of a reward to keep it going.
There’s nothing quite so basic as providing food for those you care about. From mother’s milk to fancy dinners, ‘bringing home the bacon’ seems to be an inherent need in the human psyche. Food is on the first level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Jesus was revered for feeding the multitudes, and we celebrate most special occasions with feasts or ritual dinners. When I hunted and fished, the experience was not complete until I could enjoy and share the ‘take’. My vegetable gardening fulfills the same instinct — I want to grow things that feed myself and my family.
I just hope that the emotional rewards of farming and ranching continue to drive people to do that work, because there are more and more of us to feed, and successful farming requires a long view. Technology can help, but is also expensive for an already cash-strapped agricultural community.
So, relish the food that you get or grow, and don’t forget to thank all those that made it possible.
Denver Post, Agriculture Report Shows Fewer, But Larger, Farms, 5/5/19, The Associated Press
Dan Nosowitz, Fewer Farms, Smaller Farms and Lower Incomes: The Agricultural Census Is Out, April 26, 2019, Modern Farmer
Olivia Paschal, The Unexpected Side Effects of Trump’s Trade War, March 19, 2019, The Atlantic
Steve Tarlton, Future Farm, March 7, 2019, Writes of Nature
TECHNOLOGYWATER, UN Report Says Small-Scale Organic Farming Only Way to Feed the World, December 14, 2013