Some people seem to be of the a mindset that those who are trying to make a living farming are in some sort of conspiracy with “Big Ag” that results in nearly all the evils of the world from starvation and obesity to autism and cancer.
Last week, a visitor to my blog asked me to visit a website of a self proclaimed "sustainable farmer". He appeared to be taking full advantage of all the hot buzz words – he was verified organic, labor intense, small, local, natural, non-GMO, hormone free, antibiotic free, gluten free, Monsanto free – but he was not sustainable.
How do I know? On the side bar, of every page on his website, he was asking for donations to be able to continue his farm.
Farmers have to be profitable to be sustainable! And you WANT farmers to be profitable. Here is why.
1. Farming takes a lot of money. And if farmers are going to make long term investments, they must be profitable. The information, technology and equipment available is constantly changing and improving. When farmers can take advantage of these changes they can get better at managing the high demands of the industry with caring for their farms and caring for the environment.
For example, when my father in law made the management decision to switch to no-till farming in 1992, it took money to do that. He had to purchase a new drill and new attachments for his planter. He had to spend time and money learning about the process.
A person can farm on a small scale as a hobby. These types of farms are great for the people running them and the people that are close enough to buy from them! They are are often supplemented by other sources of income and only exist as long as those other sources (like website donations) are available. These small farms are NOT a sustainable model we can duplicate across the country to meet the high demands of modern agriculture.
"These small farms are NOT a sustainable model we can duplicate across the country to meet the high demands of modern agriculture."
3. Farmers need to be experts. Farming is not easy and it requires expertise in a lot of areas. If you want your farmers to be experts in protecting the environment, food safety, technology, soil science, biology, the weather and the countless other areas they need to master – they have to be able to do this for a career. They have to be able to afford to devote the time and money into educating themselves and improving their farming practices.
Someone recently commented on my blog that farmers “just do whatever the experts tell them”. If you have ever met a farmer, you’ll know there probably is not one in existence that just does what someone tells them to do. Farmers take great pride in making management decisions and they need the ability to spend the time and money to make educated choices.
4. Profitable farms can focus on long term planning versus short term cash flow. It’s popular to claim that farmers make management decisions based solely on increasing a single year's yields or increasing a single year’s profits. The truth is some farms are forced to do that.
Farms that have not been profitable in the past and are feeling that pressure can often be forced to make decisions that may lower input costs or increase cash flow in the short run. This can result in some of the devastating stories we hear about mismanagement of animals or food on farms.
Farms that are profitable can make decisions based on what is best for the long term. A farmer’s long term is not his retirement – it’s his grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, taking over the farm.
Financial stability allows farmers to make decisions that are best for soil health, animal health, the environments surrounding our farms and consumers. Contrary to what internet activists will tell you, it's not in the industry's best interest to poison consumers.
Sustainability on farms is a process with many steps. The first step, the foundation to any farm being sustainable, is to be profitable. It’s time to stop making profit an evil word and start embracing it for our farmers and the industry!
"It’s time to stop making profit an evil word and start embracing it for our farmers and the industry!"