My view of where future farmers will come from is quite different from
My husband and I have farmed for about 20 years, never quite conventional
farmers more like lunatic fringe. We have known a lot of conventional
family farmers and have seen some of them evolve into sustainable or
organic farmers. We have also known and been friends with the "new
"farmers, those that have chosen to farm but were not really raised on a
farm or even in a rural area. In fact my husband is from a century farm
and I was raised in the 5 acre suburbs, but I always knew I was to be a
We have recently started bottling our organic milk and selling it in a
metropolitan area. So after 20 years we have moved from intensive
grazing on our dairy to not only being graziers but being organic and
adding value as well.
I believe the future family farmers will be four major groups, depending
on how you define "family farmers". These groups being: traditional
farmers that have evolved into direct marketers or value-adders or both;
"new" farmers that are innovative but not terribly tied to the land;
contract growers that really are surfs on their own farms for some large
corporation; and large conventional farmers.
1) The strongest or toughest of these will be the farmers that
have evolved or young farmers with traditional backgrounds that are
drawn to sustainable farming as the only alternative they and the land
can live with. These are the people who are committed to farming and
will work their butts off because they can see no other meaningful use
for their lives that can provide comparable satisfaction. These people
know how to work and we are talking 80 hours a week as being nothing
unusual. Some will evolve because they realize it is the right direction
for them and others will be forced by finances to change or get out.
2) The "new" farmers will be around, from my experience about 5
years before they realize they don't have the skills, money, commitment
or whatever it does take to hang in there. They will add much depth and
bring a lot of diversity to the farming community but in the end they
really aren't committed to the land and will move on to greener pastures
in other career areas. These are the ones that want to farm, have a lot
to offer the ag community but really don't want to sacrifice too much.
3) The contract growers will survive on their farms but most of
their freedom will have been taken from them in exchange for security. I
don't have a clue how large this group will be but I doubt there will be
very many "happy campers" among them.
4) Large conventional farmers will still be around. There seems
to be no limit in size for these guys and yet they truly are family owned
and managed farms. How many dairy cows can one farmer deal with? Ten ,
twenty or maybe even thirty thousand. Its not for me but they are
expanding every day with the only limits in sight being laws governing
total numbers of animals per acre and "safe" manure disposal.
Sadly, I don't see a lot of farmers able or willing to be direct
marketers or value-adders or a lot of "new" farmers with the resources
and desire to make a go of it. I would like to see lots of sustainable
and organic farmers for the good of the land and future generations.
I think if we really want to have lots of family farmers we would have to
impose some type of quota system guaranteeing good prices for specific
amounts of commodity with any overage selling at much lower market
prices. Something similar to the dairy quotas in Canada with all the
pros and cons inherent to a quota system. It boils down to: Are we
willing to trade our freedom and independence for security?
How far are we willing to go to preserve the family farm?
Green Hills Harvest
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