What Do We Really Know About The U.S. Farmer?

I often start my day by browsing the Internet for articles about farming and production agriculture.  Beyond the information that I glean from these stories, I’ve also learned a lot recently by perusing the “comments” section to see how well those outside of agriculture understand the challenges that Midwest farmers face on a regular basis.  To my surprise, in many cases the comments being posted are not only misguided, they are also totally detached from reality.  The overarching opinion seems to be that farmers are either “rich, fat cats” or huge corporations who are being subsidized by the government. While those terms are bound to elicit a response from other readers, it shows a real ignorance about who is actually growing the feed and food in this country.

Fortunately, the USDA recently published a pamphlet (America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2018 Edition) that hopefully farmers and others in the industry can use to educate those that think they know about modern agriculture, but apparently don’t. Let’s start with the basics from this report… “USDA defines a farm as any place that produced and sold—or normally would have produced and sold—at least $1,000 of agricultural products during a given year”.  [Yes, if you grow ½ acre of sweet corn and sell it at the local farmer’s market, you are considered a rich, fat cat (at least by some).]   Here’s another tidbit… “Family farms of various types together accounted for 98 percent of farms and 87 percent of production in 2017.” [Hmm, so much for the idea that big corporations are the major producers in this country]. And, finally… “In 2017, net farm income for small farmers declined almost 40 percent from its peak in 2013, though it was only slightly below its 10-year average. Lower commodity prices worsened the OPM (Operating Profit Margin) of many midsize, large, and very large farms, especially those that produced field crops (e.g., corn, soybeans, wheat) or dairy.”  [Despite what many might think, farming hasn’t been all that profitable the past 5 years.]

It’s important to note that some farm operations are quite profitable and will continue to be so in the foreseeable future.  These businesses are typically both well capitalized and well managed, the keys for success in any industry.  They shouldn’t be ashamed of their achievements nor should they be chastised for it.

I think it’s important for anyone in agriculture to challenge the false statements being made about farmers on social media or other websites.  We should use the USDA publication mentioned above to present the facts on family farmers.  It’s apparent that the general public needs educated and if we don’t do it, then who will?