Friday, February 13, 2015

Farming Is HARD Business

Agriculture still requires a second income. According to the USDA's 2012 Census of Agriculture, 70% of America's 3.2 million farmers earn just one-fourth of their annual household income from their agricultural efforts. More than 60% of all farmers work some days off the farm. Or, as one fourth-generation heritage-breed cattle rancher told me, “The reality is that we're still not making it.”

As for the romanticized image of the contented modern farmer? Day in, day out, the work of producing food is still one of the hardest, messiest, most all-consuming, inconvenient and financially risky occupations. Just ask the grass-fed-cattle rancher worrying about the sky-high cost of hay feed this winter, the farmer hoping for enough return on his wheat harvest to make it through next year, or the salad grower making ends meet by catering during the summer tourist season.

"I ran into a farmer I know in December. “I'm not going to make my operating loan in February,” he told me, meaning he might lose his farm to foreclosure. A grower of organic vegetables for 50 of the top restaurants in farm-food-obsessed Portland, Ore., he had lost 4,000 pounds of his carrot crop during a bitter fall cold snap. Selling beet tops to a vitamin maker had helped, but the season's poor potato yield meant another hit to his bottom line."

The first sentence caught my eye.  Lots of of farmers came up short this month.  Most won't lose the farm but all that work for red ink?  We know farming is a long term business and not get rich quick.  Most farmers would just love to make a small profit to reinvest after paying all the bills each year and making a few improvements.

It's not working that way in our economy right now.  LuAnn is turned off on farming and I don't blame her.  It's another hassle she doesn't need right now.  But it's my passion and I am unhappy without it.  I can I be happy with it when you can't even pay your operating loan off?

We can more than break even with $9 beans this year but there is no room for mistakes or bad weather.  Is it even worth it?

It's worth it to me.  It's all I have to connect me to something I enjoy doing and thinking about.

Some farmers won't be so lucky.  Farms change hands every year and my goal is not to have ours change hands this year.

It's more than just the money.



  1. Problem is that the industry is taking advantage on these farmers who own their farm and land, and love their job and lifestyle. Being forced to work off the farm to pay the bills is a serious sign that this business is profoundly flawed. Not having enough advance cash (at least after a few years) to finance operations is another.

    Sorry to say, but growing crops at a cost you can't control (inputs) and selling at a price you can't control either is dumb, dumb, dumb. You've got to find other ways to reduce costs or add value instead of selling raw stuff to the elevator for peanuts. Growing low value animal feed or industrial crops instead of human food is also something that just can't make money for the average farmer. The industry buys crops by the train load, they already don't care much about quality when it's human food, they care even less for animal feed and will never pay top price for it. Having global commodity prices determined by how the market wants to play it does not help either. Today, in order to make money, the farmers need to play the market too, a whole different job.

    It's not as dire and simple as I paint it, but you know how I like to provoke...

  2. Ed , I understand your love of the "farm" as my Dad was a full time farmer from 15 yrs. old until he had his first bought of Colon Cancer at 78 and other than a few short trips never missed a day from feeding or doing something . Like yourself he was a very devout Christian and was not scared of death and actually had a few "revelations" near the end that he shared . He needed a biopsy during wheat harvest for non-hodgins lymphobia and things went wrong at it and he was put on a ventilator and could not speak but wrote on a piece of paper asking for his Bible and if we were loading trucks in the field for wheat. As we were loading the last truck load of the wheat in the field we got a call that he had removed his ventilator and would pass soon . Coincidentally he passed at 4:10 pm and at the same hospital at the same time a baby boy was born who was adopted by a young lady my Dad admired who was childless . Now back too farming is hard ,life is my late neigbour always said you just need enough too be around next yr. Ed / LuAnne take care of your selfs & your health issues and the farm will take care ot itself. Wishing you a speedy recovery Ed,---kevin in Ontario

  3. Thanks Kevin, that made my day.

    It truly is in my blood!