AMERICA’S FARMS

No one can devise a farm policy today. Eighty (80) years ago the New Deal began farm programs, and for those four score years Congress has dumped money into farming to support the small family farm.

How many small family farms are there? In California families run agricultural lands, but they aren’t farms – pigs, cows, chickens, vegetable gardens, money crop. Indeed, many or all of those family members get their food in grocery stores in Beverly Hills, in California coastal towns and cities and in Bay Area cities. No one lives on the agricultural lands in the Central Valley.

Americans should not confuse farming with home ownership. There are houses on farms, but mortgaging the homestead is not reason for losing the farm. Otherwise, it would be best to bail out every delinquent homeowner in America.

It is not likely a problem this year, but it was reported late last year if Congress did not renew the Farm Bill, that milk would be $6-8 a gallon. A formula devised in the 1940s would determine milk prices nationally in 2014, now 2015. Note the 1940s was before most Americans were born. Did the lawmakers concocting that price formula figure they were writing a Constitutional Amendment called Milk Prices Forever Sacred?

There have been many changes to farms and agriculture. Machinery and automation have increase productivity a lot. Not many human beings milk cows. They’d rather milk the government for money. Not every family wants to live on the Old McDonald’s farm, where pigs no longer oink, oink here and there. Bill Clinton taught us, It’s “suie, pig!” No one makes money planting a few acres of corn and wheat. Subsistence farming happens, but I don’t believe farm programs are designed for those people. The problems extant in the 1930s are no longer around – certainly not in the same places. Congress should start anew and write Farm Programs suited for 2015.

I began this writing to react to a solicitation in the mail from the American Farmland Trust. HEADLINE: AMERICAN FARMLAND IS DISAPPEARING at x acres per day.

Losing farmland has been a problem in America for a long time. There are many reasons for it. Water: In California water is not delivered or is deemed undeliverable, and land goes dry, groves and orchards dry up and land returns to what nature can make it. Some farm communities in California have unemployment rates exceeding 40 percent because there is no work because no water is delivered.

The example given in the Farmland Trust solicitation is from Arkansas where a family lost its dairy farm – herd, land and equipment. Initially, this is a victory for persons who believe milk is bad for human beings. [They get their opinions and facts from the Internet which is always a trustworthy source.] Another group of diary opponents believe cows create more methane gas than they should; they also believe diary [chicken, pig] farms create too much waste. Finally, there are people who believe dairy farmers might receive too many subsidies than they should. The general humanity of these detractors is to sacrifice cows, land, equipment and the human beings trying to make things work.

I am suspicious that American Farmland Trust is an organization to allow its officers and employees to solicit money and pay themselves the bulk of those dollars, all to solicit more money. The solicitation presents the emotion tug: “beauty and bounty as far as the eye can see,” but no where is mentioned cows and buffalo roaming. The Farmland Trust sends notecards: “a beautiful peach blossom in perfect bloom.” It is obviously not in California where orchards and groves are being desiccated, and trees are cut down for firewood. Another notecard: “a canine farmhand ‘driving’ a tractor.” I’ve never seen a dog drive a tractor, a truck or a car. I have seen dogs playing poker. I note further that American Farmland Trust offered to send a FREE deluxe toy calf: “Milkshake,” “with a gift of $25 or more.” Milkshake is a stuff toy which I suppose is not made in America.

I cannot repeat or summarize much of the solicitation. It is too long. But I can react:

First, I don’t want any class of Americans to benefit from any government program or preference forever!  If a family is farming, that is the business. There should be no absolute guarantee that that farming business should last until Judgment Day. In business is the ever present risk of nature – weather, infestations and crummy growing conditions – and Acts of God. 

Just like an attorney must know and specialize in an area of the law, a farmer ought to watch The Weather Channel or look at the NOAA website and prepare. Farming is not always an environmentally clean activity, and the government gets involved. Smart, profitable farmers know this: Air quality, soil preservation, water contamination, chemical/fertilizer run off, wildlife destruction are all possible. Farms know about these rules and laws because violating them will result in fines and penalties.

To what extent have the owners of that Arkansas farm been prudent? I don’t know, but I know people in the milk business, small suppliers or large chains, make money. They may not be his constituents, but Patrick Leahy of Vermont voiced concern about small dairy producers in his state if milk subsidies were changed. Senator Leahy is the type of guy who would like to spend the last federal dollar on milk price supports.

Second, the complete problem with small farmers and farms is unsolvable by organizations like American Farmland Trust. Donations will waste money while misdirecting attention and misstating the problem. Most small farmers resort to alternative methods of farming – organic farms, speciality crops – or they make products from their farms – cheeses, wines, vinegars and cooking oils. This inventiveness is lost on American Farmland Trust. It’s motto appears to be: Once a Farm, Always a Farm. Manhattan was once farmland. Orange County, California was once tens of miles of orange groves. Washington DC where American Farmland Trust is located was once a swamp. 

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