Farming Problems Essay

The complexion of farming is changing radically. The land cannot support as many
farm families as it did in an earlier time. Small farms are being consolidated
into larger ones. General farms, with several kinds of crops and a barnyard of
farm animals, are yielding to specialty farms that concentrate on a single major
crop. Family farms are declining; corporate farms are increasing. Efficiency is
growing. Crops are changing. Techniques are improving. Just as the train,
tractor, truck, and airplane changed farm life in the past, the computer and
robotics are expected to change farm life in the future (AOL, 1997). And the
outcome of this is that during the early 1980’s and continuing, the farmer’s
source of income is indeed being stripped from him. What was once the only means
of survival for these farmers, has now become distant memory. Farming techniques
are undergoing tremendous changes. Farming will surely become more efficient
throughout the world. It will also become more scientific and, in the process
perhaps lose some of its romance. People who formerly lived on farms and have
fond memories of their rural childhood will barely recognize the new farms. For
farmers of the future, it will not be enough to know how to drive a tractor and
plow a straight furrow. Farmers must change with the industry, as it becomes
increasingly more sophisticated. The farmer must become more of a specialist to
compete in the marketplace. This is a reason why many of today’s farm families
are on a decline; that is, that today’s farmers are not able to purchase the
latest machinery or equipment, for they have to be cautious about where they put
their money. The 1980’s sometimes referred to as the “farm crisis”
decade of the 1980’s, while the 1970’s were referred to as the “boom
years”. It was in this time period that farms expanded in size and farm
numbers dropped. But in the 1980’s, two unusual things happened. First, older
farmers seemed to stay in farming longer. Some who might have retired didn’t
want to sell their land in a depressed market, unless forced by a lender.

Second, some middle aged farm families with children who might succeed them
quit, or discourage their children from pursuing a farming career. Other younger
farmers who had recently borrowed to start farming or to expand their businesses
were caught in the interest rate squeeze and forced out of business (Looker
1996, pp9). This fed the decline of family farms, for children, who grew up on
farms, did not wish to take upon a career as a farmer, but venture into the city
looking for better work and wages, effects that the farm life couldn’t give. The
decline of the family farm has been heralded for decades, as growing numbers of
people moved from the country top the city, and then to the suburbs. According
to an article in the USA Today, a 32-year-old dairy farmer from Fort Plain,
N.Y., says ” You can get an 8 to 5 job, make a good living and still have
(spare) time, and in the dairy business, there are huge cycles in prices. Just
about the time you’ve caught up from a down cycle, another one comes
along”. This illustrates why young people are leaving the farm in search
for better living conditions and money. Both the farmers and the academic
experts talk about the key role of money in the decline of the family farm.

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” The evolution towards larger farms and more sophisticated equipment puts
the initial investment far out of reach for most young people”. “It’s
not a small business anymore”, says John Scott, farm management and land
economics professor at the University of Illinois-Champaign. “And because
farming is risky dependant on the weather, at the mercy of crop and livestock
diseases and victim of wild price swings-banks are unwilling to lend money to
finance startup operations, especially after the disastrous defaults of the late
1970’s and early 1980’s, when high interest rate plowed under many farms and
left lender without uncorrectable debts”. (USA Today) This shows us how
hard it is for farmers to receive credit, to keep the operation of a farm
working. And without this credit, many farmers face the inevitable, that is,
closing and selling their farmland. Farmers, however, do receive aid from the
Government, to help them with competing prices. According to an article in the
Philadelphia Tribune, it says that if “the Congressional Budget
Reconciliation Act now awaiting presidential action is enacted, the historical
American farm family will finally vanish”. The Reconciliation Act mandates
a $13.4 billion cut in agriculture over the next seven years. Most of the cuts
would effect family farmers who already suffer from a poverty rate twice that of
their urban neighbors. “For decades, farmers have been plagued by the low
market prices for their crops. Between 1982 and 1993: those prices rose only
7.5%, yet what they had to pay for agriculture inputs went up 23%, more than
three times what they earned selling their crops. Under the Reconciliation Act,
decline farmers supports payments over the seven years will worsen the family’s
lot. Family farming has always been a hard way to make a living. Since it is
getting even harder, more and more people are fleeting farming for city
life”. (Philadelphia Tribune) There is also the problem of competition for
the land. In Illinois, for example, the average farm size went up by 40 acres in
10 years, but total farmland in the state actually declined because more land
has been urbanized. Much of the farmland was taken over by the suburban
development, retail centers, and the setup of business offices. This occur
regularly where farmers were unable to pay back their loans, therefore, large
corporations would take over the land, and build infrastructures. Agribusiness
also posed a threat to many family farms. Agribusiness is the name for the
sector of the economy that purchases and processes agricultural commodities and
often produces them and fabricates and sells agricultural production materials
and equipment. During the winter of 1978-79, the nation capital, Washington, was
a host to one of the largest demonstrations in years. The protest came from
family farmers, in the heartland of America, who had organized a ‘trader-cade’
to Washington and were blocking traffic in the capital. The protest was to call
attention to the crisis in the U.S. agriculture system, which threatened the
survival of the family farm, and this is one of the implications agribusiness
has on the family farm. The numbers of family owned and operated farms has long
been on the decline, and those who are likely to survive the crisis are large
agribusiness corporations. An additional implication is the ‘cost price squeeze’
situation. This is where farmers are caught between declining farm prices and
rising costs. Farmers are constantly trying to increase productivity, but in
doing so tend to overproduce for the market, driving down prices and incomes.

When this occurs, it leads to bankruptcy for the weakest competitors, typically
those who are having trouble buying the basic necessities for the farm (Burnach
1980, pp. 22) A critical feature which distinguishes a system of family farming
from corporation based factory farming is the use of family labor rather than
wage labor. The family farm unit differs significantly from the corporate owned
farm in that no matter how large the farm is, or mechanized it is the primary
input of labor on the family farm comes for family members. On the other hand,
large agribusiness firs owned by such companies as United Brands employ hundreds
of wage laborers. It is bad news for family farms because family farm members
are attracted to the wage pay from the agribusiness firms; thus they leave their
farms to go to these firms, leaving no one to work on the family farm. As a
result the family farm starts to see declined in productivity, and not too far
away, the selling of the farm to some big firm, who can meet the monthly
expenses. This is another implication affecting the decline of family farms.

When family farms realize that they are getting into trouble with their farm,
their immediate reaction is to sell off some of their assets. The following
table shows some examples of immediate reactions to trouble. Actions of farmers
in financial trouble, 1983-1987 __________________________________________ % #
__________________________________________ Attended crisis meetings 60 32 Became
an activist 22 13 Cooperated with lender 48 27 Counseled other farmers 52 30
Sold or gave back land 55 32 Eliminated enterprise 50 29 Sold machinery 35 20
Took off farm job 36 21 __________________________________________ Source:
Sample data (N=58) (Friedberger 1989, pp.75) However, whenever there is trouble,
there is almost always some kind of relief. In 1985, an Act called “Save
the Family Farms”, was passed by the government. It imposed mandatory
controls on production and the amount of land that could be farmed. Its basic
objective was to raise farm prices through a modest increase to the consumer in
price of food. The “Save the Family Farm” aimed to provide an
alternative. Its corner stone, the minimum price provision. Was offered as the
equivalent of the minimum wage in urban occupation. It also had other important
aspects, notably a concern for the future of land tenure and the initiation of
refinancing provisions for farmers (Friedberger 1989, pp. 147). Basically the
aim of this act was to help save the last few family farm. A problem facing
family farms today is that it is hard for the young farmers to get ahead.

Sometimes the farm is not passed down from generation to generation, so it is
hard for the young farmers to start up their operations. Not only are young
people more receptive to new ideas in general, but beginning farmers are at a
stage in their lives when their making decisions about the kind of machinery
they will but and the methods they will use. Younger farmers also need to
maximize their income from sales and maybe more inclined to bypass the tradition
marketing and processing system. Younger farmers also have less land (depending
on how much help they got from their parents) so the ones with smaller
operations may have more time to use sustainable methods. If there is a single
message here, its that getting stated in farming today is still possible but
that it’s not easy. For most young people farming means having less leisure
time, less security, fewer benefits and often less income than their city
friends with a job do. This is what scares many young farmers, thus adding to
the decrease of family farms. An additional problem facing young family farms is
the constant struggle to keep up with larger farms, for the larger ones possess
something that the family ones don’t; that is high tech machinery and the latest
technology. A forecast for the 21st century farm suggests a unit of 5000 to
10,000 acres ( 2,025 to 4, 050 hectares), with the farmer, or farm manager,
sitting in an air conditioned pod, or central office, scanning computer print
out or screen. The computer will receive weather and soil data, analyze past
records of planting, consider market reports and then recommend what crops to
grow, when to sow, what kind and how much fertilizer to apply, and when to
harvest. The physical labor will be entrusted to robots with tape controlled
programs and it will be supervise by television scanners on gigantic towers.

Robot harvesters will carry out high-speed picking, grading, packaging and
preparation of crops for market. The beginnings of such system are already in
existence (AOL 1997). This may all sound a bit absurd, but this id the way thing
are looking right now. Technology has taken over many of the operations of the
daily farm routines, and it will continue to do so in the future. Despite
technology playing an important part in farming, so does family farms becoming a
capitalist unit of agricultural production. The development of U.S. agriculture
is generating the transformation of agricultural working class in three day.

First, as the growing size and industrialization of successful farms makes
family labor insufficient, more farms are becoming capitalist, hiring permanent
employees. Second, mechanization of harvesting and other labor-intensive tasks
is lessening the demand foe seasonal labor (Burbach 1980, pp.37). This shows,
how family farms, since they cannot meet the labor input needed, have to become
capitalist, joining other farms in an agribusiness firm. Overall, the U.S.

family farm cannot survive as the dominant form of agricultural production. They
are constantly struggling against the encroaching power of the banks, the
corporations, and the large-scale agribusiness firms. Ultimately the remaining
family farmers, the farm workers and the other sectors of the U.S. working class
have to assume control of both agriculture and industry and forge a new
agriculture system that takes into consideration the needs of the vast majority
of the American people (Burbach 1980, pp.12). In conclusion, as farming in the
U.S. continues to evolve, it bring with it obstacles that would deter all but
the most devoted young people. America’s family farms are flirting with
extinction as the young people priced out by huge startup costs and scared off
by backbreaking responsibility- increasingly find other ways to make a living.

On sum, despite setbacks, the intergenerational family farm remained an
important institution in the open country corn belt. However, over a period of
decades, farm families experienced what amounted to a shake out in land tenure,
the reorganization of farm finance, and in some cases a search for alternative
sources of income. Despite being on the decline, there are still some family
farms hanging in there. From the words of a Willow Springs, Mo. Hog raiser,
“this is a great way of life if you don’t have to depend on it totally for
a living”. Bibliography A.V Krebs. Budget bill perils farm families.

Philadephia Tribune, The. 12-12-95. Burbach, Roger, and Flynn, Patricia.

Agribusiness in the Americas. New York: Monthly Review Press, 1980. Freidberger,
Mark. Shake-Out. Kentucky, Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1989.

K.V. Johnson. Family Farms Rapidly Slipping into history. USA Today, 02-07-1995.

Looker, Dan. Farmers for the Future. United States of Ameriace: Iowa State
University press, 1996. Williams, Simon. Agribusiness and the small scale
farmer. Boulder: West View press, 1985. Farming: Future. America Online, 1995.

A.V Krebs. Budget bill perils farm families. Philadephia Tribune, The.

12-12-95. Burbach, Roger, and Flynn, Patricia. Agribusiness in the Americas. New
York: Monthly Review Press, 1980. Freidberger, Mark. Shake-Out. Kentucky,
Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky, 1989. K.V. Johnson. Family Farms
Rapidly Slipping into history. USA Today, 02-07-1995. Looker, Dan. Farmers for
the Future. United States of Ameriace: Iowa State University press, 1996.

Williams, Simon. Agribusiness and the small scale farmer. Boulder: West View
press, 1985. Farming: Future. America Online, 1995.


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