Decline of Family Farms

In the 21st century, few people are able to step outside on a warm summer morning and hear hens clucking and cattle lowing in a nearby pasture - Decline of Family Farms introduction. They cannot walk to the garden and pull up fresh carrots or pluck ripe tomatoes. This way of life is rapidly disappearing. Gone are the times when farmers would work together with their wives and children to feed the livestock or harvest that year’s crop. This old way is no longer because of the diminishing number of family farms. The causes of this trend range from the rising age of farmers to the rising costs of expenses. Or from the more common use of subsidies by the government to agribusiness taking control of family farms. With the loss of the family farm, a class of society is being lost, and with it, rural landscapes are fading at an alarming rate due to environmental consequences of agribusiness. The decline of the family farm is no myth. According to the Census of Agriculture, a United States Department of Agriculture report revealed, “The number of U. S. farms fell sharply until the early 1970s after peaking at 6. 8 million in 1935…by 2002, about 2. 1 million farms remained. The American Farmland Trust estimates an acre of U. S. farmland goes into development every two minutes, while they estimates Colorado has lost 1. 26 million acres of agricultural land between 1997 and 2002. This comes out to be an average of 690 acres being lost per day, the third highest in the nation. Colorado is only one example of the trend of the decline of the family farm. Statistics show that Canada has a similar situation there. The number of their farms continues to drop, according to data from the 2006 Census of Agriculture, “declining 7. 1% to 229,373 farms over the five-year period between the censuses.

This represents 17,550 fewer farms than in 2001”. With all these facts, it is clear that the family farm is declining, and declining sharply at that. If this continues, the family farm will be gone before we know it. One of the many causes is the rise age of the average farmer. As the farming community ages, those within it and the land they own come under intense pressure. Aging farmers, whose average age has risen from 52 to 57 during the last 20 years, are often retiring without a younger family member willing to take over, and too often removing multi-generation ranches and farms from production.

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Statistics show that less than a third of farms have a designated successor in the family. Most people would think that since there are no successors to these farms that young couples would be able to get a foothold into the business. Wrong. Many young couples are unwilling to invest $500,000 in a business that requires them to work twelve to sixteen hours per day throughout most of the year. With that in mind, they would only get a profit that amounts to the equivalent of what a farmers’ wages would have been thirty years ago.

Giant agribusinesses are an additional factor of the decline of the family farm. Agribusiness is defined as a business involved in agriculture. Agribusiness is a range of businesses from growing to processing and shipping of food , whereas Family farming is defined as any farm with no hired manager or Non-family Corporation. A family farm has the members supplying at least half of the man-hours to operate the business. Agribusiness uses only hired personnel to run daily operations. The land size of a family farm is usually smaller than agribusinesses but can be any size.

Agribusiness can hold operations in multiple communities and states, while family farms are mainly operated within one community. Agribusiness can include processing, shipping and possibly sales. Family farms deal in mainly farming with connections to others to get products to market. Family farms have the ability to sell in small numbers, and usually do this locally, whereas agribusiness does this nationally and sometimes internationally. Even though 90 percent of all farms are still owned by families or individuals, more and more farms are becoming “corporations. These giant agribusinesses are not just involved in local farming, but also in the distribution, processing, storage and retail of farm products nationwide. The family farm cannot compete with the profit these agribusinesses are gaining from being involved in the other aspects of agriculture, which leads to the family farm going under. Another cause of this trend is subsidies. In the agricultural industry, certain products can be produced cheaply in large quantities, stored over long periods, and shipped easily. These items must be heavily subsidized to keep prices artificially low on the world market.

Yet subsidies can harm the family farm. Subsidies can lead to chronic overproduction and dumping of surpluses on the global market, which often forces smaller, non-competitive producers out of business. The abandoned land is then often taken over by agribusinesses. The major reasoning behind the disappearing family farm is the ever-increasing discrepancy between dwindling income and soaring expenses. Net farm income in 2000 dropped to $39. 7 billion, the lowest since 1995. On the other hand, production expenses rose to $197. 5 billion or eighty-eight percent of gross cash income, the highest since 1984.

While food prices have gone up substantially in supermarkets, the wages farmers are paid have been left out of the equation. Although private manufacturers can include all their costs plus a fair profit, government boards often set prices for what farmers receive for their products. Because of this, the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics projected that farmers will have the largest job loss of any other occupation. It has been estimated that living expenses for the average farm family exceed $47,000 per year. Many farms could not produce sufficient income to meet living expenses.

In fact, fewer than one in four of the farms in this country produce gross revenues in excess of $50,000. The rise of agribusiness has many consequences, including environmental and societal consequences. Factory farms concentrate an unnatural number of animals in one place, which creates an unmanageable amount of waste. For example, a single hog excretes up to seventeen and one half pounds of manure and urine each day. Put 1,000 hogs together, and that is six million pounds of waste each year. On a factory farm containing 35,000 hogs, over four million pounds of waste are produced each week and over 200 million pounds each year.

On a family farm, animal waste can be a tool in the production of crops. In factory-farm amounts, it becomes a major pollutant. The creation and disposal of such enormous quantities of waste has a devastating effect on the air, water and soil surrounding factory farms. Unlike human waste, livestock manure is not processed for sanitation. On factory farms, it is commonly mixed with water, held in pits, and then spread on cropland. The system often suffers from an excess of manure: the pits can leak or spill, for instance, or the manure is over-applied to fields, which can cause it to run off into surface waters, such as rivers, lakes, etc. . Factory farms emit harmful gases and particles such as methane and hydrogen sulfide, which can contribute to global warming and harm the health of those living or working nearby. Air pollution results from the overuse of machinery, the mismanagement of manure, and the irresponsible feeding practices that characterize industrial farming. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides have turned agriculture into a leading source of water pollution in the United States. Runoff from factory farms kills fish, degrades aquatic habitats and threatens drinking water supplies.

Additionally, factory farms use tremendous amounts of water, which cuts into our precious supplies of water that are not contaminated. In this technologically advanced world, most people are unaware that a prosperous society does not hinge on acquiring gadgets, vehicles or other luxury items. Rather, a major indicator of a thriving society is the stability of the family unit. As small farms vanish from the countryside, with them disappears one of the best environments capable of producing strong, character-driven families.

This building of strong character is the most noticeable consequence of the family farm dying out. Over the past centuries, the agricultural lifestyle presented favorable conditions for the mental development of children because it exposed them to an immense variety of stimuli. It allowed them to channel their energy in helping parents care for animals, collect eggs, grow vegetables and harvest grain. For adults, farm life provided a slower pace, with time to think. Built into the occupation were a healthier diet and a workout routine.

Living on a family farm, I experience this first hand. As a child, I made games out of my farm chores and enjoyed working. This has continued as I have grown older. I enjoy working and appreciate the value of a dollar, whereas many of my peers would rather complain about working or their lack of money. Not until the Industrial Revolution did nations move from an agricultural centered society into ever-expanding industrial centered society. While this shift has provided many modern benefits, society has inadvertently lost the strong focus on the moral character, integrity and work ethic.

The decline of the family farm is a trend that can be understood by investigating the evidence that exists, reasons behind the trend, and consequences of it. The family farm is being forced out due to the rising costs of expenses, agribusiness, and numerous other causes. The downfall of the family farm has many consequences on the environment and society. These consequences, if the trend continues, will hurt the next generation of farmers, but more importantly all Americans. Americans may need to reconsider their priorities and face the looming problem our country has been confronted with.

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