The Large Cost of a Small Operation
A farmer in the Mississippi Delta region. People who earn their living as farmers have a unique role in society as stewards of an essential public good—an agriculture system that feeds and nourishes everyone. (Photo by Todd Post/Bread for the World)
by Gabrielle Hall
Unbeknownst to most people, thousands of local farmers across the country work tirelessly to harvest enough to get by each year. Unfortunately, the current food system in United States creates hardships for small farmers to stay afloat.
“It's very important to look at our broken food system, which actually comes from a broken agriculture system. For many years, the big guys were the only ones that counted and the little guys had to do the stuff by themselves.” said Robin Robbins, food safety and marketing manager at Appalachian Harvest, a company that supports small farmers and purchases from local farms to put together truckloads of fruits and vegetables.
Here is a look at some of the other challenges small farmers face:
- Extreme weather. Flooding, drought, hail, or early frost can break a small farm and the people it supports. For example, the severe U.S. drought that is devastating crops across the center of the country is cutting projected crop yields dramatically. For small farmers, it can mean the difference between getting by and going out of busines
- Limited coverage, lofty expectations. Larger farmers’ crops are generally covered by insurance and government subsidies. However, smaller-scale producers often cannot afford coverage, or their crops do not meet the criteria (size, annual yields, type) for coverage. The U.S. government subsidizes corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, and rice. It does not subsidize fruits and vegetables—coincidentally the most difficult to harvest—even though the government says that they should make up half of what we eat every day.
- Marketing roadblocks. Marketing is the biggest impediment to small farmers being in business. It can be challenging for small growers to market their products because grocery chains go straight to the large farms where they can purchase produce by the truckload. Farmers growing some of the most nutritious foods around struggle to get it to consumers.
- Labor. According to farmer Sherilyn Shephard of Scott County, VA, “Labor is our biggest expense. It’s hard to find reliable, local labor.” Migrant workers are crucial to small farmers
Farming is one of the most costly professions and a success isn't easy. Farmers pay up to $200,000 annually for supplies and labor. If they fail to sell their yields, they do not make a profit and cannot sustain their livelihood. Buying local produce and organic foods not only supports local farmers but also is beneficial to your health.
- Watch Bread’s video, “In Short Supply: Small Farmers and the Struggle to Delivery Healthy Food to Your Plate,” from the 2012 Hunger Report.
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