[Market-farming] the future of small farms

Tradingpost tradingpost at lobo.net
Thu Feb 8 15:44:48 EST 2007

I'm sorry, are we discussing hedgerows and bells on cows, or the
comparative efficiency of small versus large farms? It should be fairly
obvious that many millions of Europeans have fed their populations and made
a living on farms for centuries, or should I say millennia. 

As for a "good living", I don't know if that's compared to butchers or
bakers, or what standard of living is comparable. As for American farming,
our tax dollars overwhelmingly subsidize large farms rather than small
farms, directly and indirectly. It's said our food travels an average of
1400 miles  to our tables, so you also have to allocate some of the massive
transportation infrastructure as indirect subsidy. And since we're eating
oil and gas through pesticides and fertilizer, how much of the cost of
controlling much of the world's supplies through foreign wars should be
allocated as farm subsidy? I won't even go into the tax-supported ethanol

I'm not advocating any particular policy or politics here, just pointing
out that U.S. agribusiness is a tax supported industry, perhaps far more
than European farming. That being the case, as a whole U.S. agribusiness is
not just inefficient, it's ridiculously inefficient. Who knows what the
farm landscape would look like if we didn't have government interfering a
hundred ways in the free market? Would the small farm be a lot more
profitable if we didn't have tax giveaways propping up the giant farms? 

paul tradingpost at lobo.net

*********** REPLY SEPARATOR  ***********

On 2/8/2007 at 3:07 PM Brigette Leach wrote:

>Before accepting the statement pertaining to European farms at face 
>value, explore the means used by their governments to support small 
>farms. While not labeled as subsidies in the same manner that we think 
>of them here in the States, payments of many types are made directly to 
>farmers. For example, my husband visited a British wheat producer 3 
>years ago who was paid the equivalent of $12,000 to put in a hedgerow 
>and another $12,000 not to remove an existing one. Hence the good 
>living. This is merely one example. There are many. Consider the Swiss 
>dairy farmer who is paid to put bells on his cows because the practice 
>benefits tourism. Not a subsidy, but also not generated directly from 
>production practices. French farmers are limited to produce what the 
>central government allows them to grow.
>European attitudes toward both land and food supplies are definitely 
>different than here in the US. And they've made the connection between 
>agriculture and tourism. Many European farmers live in town and not on 
>their farms. If they live on the farm, changes in buildings and houses 
>are closely monitored by their governments, and some types of new 
>construction are restricted. The notion that each family, farm or non, 
>needs a single family dwelling isn't as strongly ingrained as here.
>Recognize as well that changes in the EU in recent years have impacted 
>policies and practices for all of European agriculture. Access to land 
>in former Iron Curtain counties and changes in the workforce, e.g 
>migrant workers, have had impacts both positive and negative. What year 
>was New Organic Grower published? If the quote isn't current within the 
>last couple of years...is it germane?
>Avalon Farms Homegrown
>Tradingpost wrote:
>>"While the "bigger is better" myth is generally accepted, it is a
>>fallacy. Numerous reports have found that smaller farms are actually more
>>efficient than larger "industrial" farms. These studies demonstrate
>>that when farms get larger, the costs of production per unit often
>>increase, because larger acreage requires more expensive machinery and
>>chemicals to protect crops... Though the yield per unit area of one crop
>>corn, for example - may be lower, the total output per unit area for
>>farms, often composed of more than a dozen crops and numerous animal
>>products, is virtually always higher than that of larger farms...
>>if we are to compare accurately the productivity of small and large
>>we should use total agricultural output, balanced against total farm
>>and "externalities," rather than single-crop yield as our measurement
>>principle. Total output is defined as the sum of everything a small
>>produces - various grains, fruits, vegetables, fodder, and animal
>>- and is the real benchmark of efficiency in farming. Moreover,
>>productivity measurements should also take into account total input
>>including large-machinery and chemical use, which often are left out of
>>equation in the yield efficiency claims."
>>from http://www.keepmainefree.org/myth3.html
>>"... the output of the average European farm is remarkably efficient and
>>diverse, obvious corollaries of intensive agriculture. Europe's small
>>farmers have traditionally produced the bulk of the food eaten in Europe
>>and have made a good living for themselves in the process. There is no
>>reason why regionally based, small-scale food production cannot be
>>successful again in the United States, especially since dwindling suplies
>>of fossil fuels are likely to drive up transportation costs ..." (Eliot
>>Coleman in The New Organic Grower p.21)
>>"Of course, farms and ranches can also be too small to be sustainable -
>>they can't generate enough income, can't take care of the land, nor
>>provide a good place to live.  But, farmers who rely on "alternative"
>>farming methods - reduce input costs, market in the niches, build
>>relationships, etc. - can generate more net income with fewer acres of
>>and fewer dollars invested.  An intensively managed sustainable farm may
>>generate fifty cents, or more, in net farm income for each dollar of
>> Thus, a farm with $100,000 in sales can generate $50,000 in net farm
>>income and a farm classified by USDA as "non-commercial" may add
>>$25,000 or more to farm household income." - Professor John Ikerd in
>>Farm Today Magazine, September-October, 2003
>>paul tradingpost at lobo.net
>>*********** REPLY SEPARATOR  ***********
>>On 2/8/2007 at 11:57 AM STEVE GILMAN wrote:
>>>Hi Bob,
>>>	I appreciate your considerable farming expertise as you've expressed  
>>>through your posts over the years.
>>>	I know numerous small-scale organic farmers who would be quite  
>>>surprised at your statement, below, however. In addition to some 30  
>>>years as an organic  grower I also had the privilege of working on a  
>>>3 year research project with a couple of dozen exemplary organic  
>>>farmers in the northeast (<www.neon.cornell.edu>) utilizing  
>>>collaborating scientists from numerous disciplines to investigate  
>>>multiple systemic aspects of organic production, including the  
>>>economic component. By some conventional standards they didn't have a  
>>>McMansion or a garage full of SUV's to show for their years of work,  
>>>for sure. But by appropriate living standards they were doing great   
>>>economically and leading healthy, productive, and fulfilled lives. On  
>>>the other side, I'd have to say there's a lot of financial wealthy  
>>>folks out there leading empty lives and desperately trying to  
>>>overcome an impoverishment of soul.
>>>	It's my understanding you're not an organic grower, correct?  
>>>Overall, I'd say you're right in your depictions of the conventional   
>>>food system -- the emphasis on Yield favors the big producers at the  
>>>expense of the small growers. The history of NJ, "The Garden State"  
>>>is one of usurpation of local markets by big producers from further  
>>>and further away once the railroads standardized their track gauges  
>>>and then introduced refrigerated transport. The value-added organic  
>>>alternative food has considerable cache among eaters in the food  
>>>economy, however -- enough to put more and more farms on the map and  
>>>keep them there, with decent incomes to boot. As we head into an  
>>>uncertain future with energy shortages and global warming  
>>>dislocations we'll see which lifesyles are truly sustainable.
>>>	While energy issues and the increasing preference by chefs,  
>>>consumers, schools etc. for locally grown food stands to lift all  
>>>boats, conventional and organic -- I'd have to say that for organic  
>>>farmers, at least, the future is so bright, they have to wear shades...
>>>Steve Gilman
>>>Ruckytucks Farm
>>Market-farming mailing list
>>Market-farming at lists.ibiblio.org
>Market-farming mailing list
>Market-farming at lists.ibiblio.org

More information about the Market-farming mailing list