Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Keep 'em Poor Down on the Farm

I have before me a recent issue of a dairy publication that I still take despite trading in my rubber boots for.....rubber boots.....some years ago. This particular publication is old and respected. I particularly enjoy reading the articles that highlight how a small group of individual farms handle various management challenges that come along in any sort of farm business. But my blog today isn't about any of that.

The editorial in this magazine exhorts the dairy industry to address some of the rhetoric put forth by some of the organic buying groups operating in the US. Fair enough, some of it needs to be addressed and frankly some of it very much is rhetoric. But the lengthy part of the editorial that stated "If we all followed this mantra then food prices would rise and more of the world would go hungry and this would be a bad thing" got my goat today

Let me state right here that I won't be signing up to drink Kool-Aid with either the editorial staff at this magazine or with anyone in the organic industry any time soon. I also don't want anybody to go to bed hungry. But the irony of their statement is that a few pages before the editorial in the very same issue of this magazine is a page long article comparing dairy farm numbers from 1992 and last year entitled, " Fewer Dairy Farms Left the Business". In the past twenty years the number of dairy farms in this nation has shrunk by 61 percent. Having participated in said industry for a number of years and in a number of ways I can state with some assurance that the reason for such a precipitous decline is that there isn't much money milking cows.

My first duty as a farmer isn't to feed the world and it isn't to worry about folks going to bed hungry. It's to run my business in such a way that that I provide a good living for my wife and family so I don't have to worry about *them* going to bed hungry. As such, higher farm gate milk prices would be very welcome were I to decide to start milking cows.

To read that continuing to produce cheap food is exactly what needs to happen in a farm driven, farmer read magazine where the potential readership has declined by 60 percent in the past twenty years mainly due to economic conditions tells me all I need to know about the writer. I don't know who's side he's on but it sure ain't mine. In my mind the cheap food cult in agribusiness is as anti-farmer as they come. I wonder if we really would be better off if we ditched industrial agriculture and tried a different route.


Bif said...

Agree agree agree.

And you know it goes against my better judgement to be so agreeable. =)

People forget that food used to be a MAJOR part of the budget. Now food is cheap, industrialized, and usually not very healthful.

Peeps. Open eyes. Spend money that gives you healthful food AND feeds a good farmer and his family.

So complicated...

Kristy said...

I personally think that every item you purchase should state how much of that purchase price goes to the farm. I really think the consumer would take notice.

For a time, consumers demanded cheap product. Not necessarily quality or good for you, but cheap. Now the consumer is changing - but the industry still believes that as Americans, we can't afford higher prices for food. Now we want high quality...and cheap. And we like to tout "we spend less money on food than anyone else." So we can spend more money on....what exactly?

Cheap food is also a catalyst for the obesity problem in the US. Along with many other factors, but it is part of the equation.

Okay - off my soap box. But I'm drinking the same KoolAid as you my friend.

RuckusButt said...

Great post Jason. You should consider writing to that publication. Surely other farmers could benefit from hearing your point of view, if only so they know there are like-minded farmers out there. And you might make some of them think about the messages they are being fed.

I have a coworker who honestly disgusts me in his devotion to cheap food. Thinking about the food chain, farmers, quality, sustainability etc., seem to be foreign ideas to him. I try very hard to be patient and explain my views in easy-to-digest morsels. Ugh.

I too shake my head at some of the organic farming propaganda/ regulations etc., but would love to hear your point of view around this (you alluded only vaguely in your post).

Jason said...

I think I've got a post in me somewhere about how consumers mistake the term "organic" for "animal friendly" or "sustainable" or even "small family farm". Sometimes this is indeed the case, but not always and regulations don't make it easy to see the difference.