Where did all the farmers go?

by Ana Grarian

Ana was reading an article the other day about some “farmer” in Florida who won an award for his great agricultural practices. Honey, you may own three huge dairy facilities, but you are no more a farmer than the superintendent of some city school district is a teacher. You may have been at one time, but you are no longer going to the barn and milking a herd of cows before breakfast.

The article outlined how, by using the cow manure as fertilizer, they avoided having manure based pollution. This “farmer” has 17,000 cows on 10,000 acres. Just call me skeptical that 10K acres is enough land, especially with Florida soils, to adequately handle the manure from 17K cows.

…. a Holstein (1400 pounds) cow produces 115 pounds of manure per day or approximately 21 tons per year. (Illini DairyNet)

Correct me if my math is wrong but I think that translates to 357 thousand tons of manure per year, or 35.7 TONS of manure per acre per year. Just think for a minute of that sitting on your neighbors lawn.



(Farms keep NY green -  NYFarmBureau)

(Not at those concentrations!)


But what really caught my eye was that this “farmer” was bragging about the fact that he employed 250 people. There weren’t any figures on whether they were employed full or part time, whether they worked seasonally or year round, or whether this included turn-over or was the average employees.

Industrial “farming” likes to brag that it brings jobs to a community. Now think about this for a minute… How can an industry that on the one hand claims greater efficiency, on the other hand claim greater employment, for the same industry in the same place?

So lets break this down. If those 17,000 cows were split up amongst conventional farms of not that long ago, they would comprise 170 to 340 farms. Each of those farms would employ a farmer, his/her spouse and to some extent their children, plus often a hired hand, and some seasonal labor, usually high school kids during haying season. That’s more owner operators than this man has as employees, and I think that’s where we lost the big picture when these operations came into being.

If you’d have asked my husband and I how many employees we had, we would have talked about the kids who helped in the hay mow, or the man we hired when I had to work off the farm. We didn’t consider ourselves employees of a business, we were farmers. The owners, and yes the major work force, but not employees.

So that community would have had 300+ independent business owners, who employed several hundred more folks on a part-time and full-time basis. People with pride of ownership, teaching their skills to their children and working hand in hand with their neighbors.

Give me a farm community over an industrialized agricultural zone any day.