Do not farm

Almost 200 years ago our family came to this area to start farming.  My information on the first 75 years is sketchy; about all I’m sure of is that they didn’t move to our present location until the 1840s, when my great, great grandfather built the “old place” now restored by the Paul Hornback family.  In all that time, there were many ups and downs for farming, and no doubt many pessimists.  Nevertheless, we’re still here, growing mostly crops and a little jet fuel.

Victor Davis Hanson is a conservative commentator I respect, who is widely read and very well educated.  He is a college professor, and a farmer.  Here is what he said in a recent commentary:

8. Do not farm. There is only loss. To the degree that anyone makes money farming, it is a question of a vertically-integrated enterprise making more in shipping, marketing, selling, packing, and brokering than it loses on the other end in growing. No exceptions. Food prices stay high, commodity prices stay low. That is all ye need to know. Try it and see.

This is a sobering assessment, to say the least.  He lives in California, where the fruits and nuts (political) hold great sway over everything a farmer does, but I still think he makes a valid point for all US farming.  As Paul Hornback will tell you, govt. subsidies are very important for a farmer’s bottom line.  This is especially true for the “industrial” farmer, who takes on enormous risk to make thin margins at best.  This means profit margins are subject to political whims– and that’s not a prospect I find attractive.

Is there a future in farming?  I’m sure there is, since we all must eat.  The question for families like mine, however, is whether farming is the best, most profitable and most responsible use of a scarce resource — land.  For my father’s generation, with a booming population and economy after WW2, there was no question that it was.  For my children’s generation, with a booming/busting/booming global ecomony where food is a fuel, a weapon and a political prize as well as supper, the picture is much less clear.  The great difference in generations is technology.  Never in human history have so few men been able to grow so much high quality food and get it to so many different places quickly.  In a capitalistic market, this can only mean one thing– cut throat competition from all over the world.  That’s a reality the family farm may not be able to overcome.

I understand that there are so few full-time farmers now that farming, as a category,  has dropped off the US Census Bureau’s radar.  Perhaps Mr. Hanson’s analysis is correct.

Leave a Reply