Fact: Most Farmers Are Not Rich

Post image for Fact: Most Farmers Are Not Rich

by brenda on July 16, 2014

photo credit: Rosewoman

If you don’t know my story already, let me share it with you in brief:

We bought a farm, worked it hard, tried to do the full-time-farming thing. We poured so much into our farm–time, energy, money, debt. We had good products, great customers, and yet, we didn’t make it. The farm didn’t pay for itself. My husband had to go back to work, and we decided that we were unable to continue farming and maintain my husband’s career, the commute, the debt, and a healthy family life.

  • We sold eggs for $6.50 per dozen and though we sold out, we didn’t make enough to cover our expenses. I have people telling me on my Facebook page that even $5 per dozen for eggs is too expensive and unrealistic.
  • We sold raw milk for $10 per gallon and didn’t make enough to cover our expenses. So many people complain about this cost, too, as if it is an outrageous price. The most recent negative comment I got about this was: “And we wonder why people go for the industrial milk…”
  • We sold whole chickens for $5.50 per pound and had such a hard  time selling our chickens (which barely brought in any profit anyways) at the farmer’s market.
  • We also sold beef, pork, duck, goose, as well as some fresh produce, homemade spice mixes, homemade candles, and a variety of organic grocery items in our farm store. It took so much time to manage all of the details of our farm–and yet people told me over and over that to make enough income, we would need to “diversify” more. Diversify more? We were busy with so much to manage already!

I get so many comments from people who truly expect farm-fresh food to be as cheap as grocery-store, subsidized food or maybe even cheaper. I get comments like this:

“Maybe people should wake up to the fact this isn’t a good
business venture… It is simply a way to provide for your
family and a few others. It’s when people try to turn this into a
business that the costs sky rocket.”

The Truth is: Farming isn’t a good business venture, but it should be. Why shouldn’t people make money farming? People who build furniture make money, right? People who design computers make money, right? Why shouldn’t the people who grow our food make money?

“If you are running a farm the milk cow is only a portion of it…….even stores and other businesses take losses on one product or service while marking up others that can handle the higher profit margin and it all evens out as a whole.”

The Truth is: I get people telling me that every product on the farm ought to be a “loss leader”–milk, eggs, chicken, etc. I am not sure how these people expect the farmer to make any income or even cover the cost of feed, if every product loses money for the farmer. There is not one single food product that “can handle the higher profit margin” because grocery store food prices are SO distorted because of government subsidies. Most people have no clue how much food production actually costs.

“ppl will continue with store bought eggs due to the greediness of the up and coming farmer. Farming is about getting in tune with nature, soil, water and plant life, and sharing the spoils to keep ppl from starving. You want ppl to help support your greedy, selfish lifestyle.”

The Truth is: Farmers who are trying to simply make a living off of farming are not “greedy.” Farmers should not be expected to be self-sacrificing people who simply do their job because they love nature. What if every job out there was treated this way? Doctors ought to share their time and skill set to keep people from being ill. Clothing manufacturers should give away clothes to keep people from being naked. Authors and publishers should give away books so that nobody ever has to go without a good book to read. It’s ridiculous, right? There are true costs in every industry. And the laborer deserves a fair wage. Farmers work hard. They aren’t greedy or selfish when they charge realistic prices for their goods, after assessing the true costs and factoring in their time and labor.

“Most farmers never got rich farming. In hard times farmers had no cash, but they had food. So while the rest of us are being forced to pay exorbitant prices for grass fed beef, pastured eggs and gmo/soy you have all that on your farm, you are truly blessed.”

The Truth is: Farmers don’t get rich off of farming, but they should be able to survive, pay the bills, make enough to pay for their time, and keep on farming for years to come. Farmers don’t get food off of their farm for free, and the money it costs to raise this food doesn’t magically appear somehow. When we were farming, we would pay $1,000-$2,000 per delivery of feed–and we were needing to order that much feed at least every 2 weeks. That’s $2,000-$4,000 per month, and farmers can’t just come up with that money. In hard times, they still have to make enough income to raise the food to have the food

“Maybe get a day job along w your laying hens, like the rest of us, instead of over charging for eggs.”

The Truth is: Most farmers DO have day jobs, which is really sad. This person was claiming that $5 per dozen for organic eggs was “over charging for eggs.” $5 per dozen is not bringing in much income for the farmer at all.

Someone who was saying eggs should not cost more than $3 per dozen: “…my husband makes very little over the cost of raising these chickens, MUCH less than minimum wage, but he does it because we feel it’s important to raise and grow good healthy food using methods that improve, rather than deplete our soil and environment.”

The Truth is: I’m glad that these people have a good reason for wanting to raise chickens well….but does that make it OK that, as she’s admitting, her husband makes “MUCH less than minimum wage” for this job? Can we all agree that raising chickens for eggs is a JOB that is worthy of a fair wage for the time and labor put into it?

I want to share these statistics, for all of the people out there who truly believe that farmers are rich or greedy. Notice that the “Median Farm Income” is Negative. People, this is not ok. Farmers have to get a “day job” to support their hobby of growing your food.

ImageGen.ashx

The prediction for 2014 doesn’t look any better:

ImageGen-2.ashx

And notice this next chart. The document states: “Farm income contributes little to the annual income of farm households operating residence farms, is a secondary source of income for households with intermediate farms, and is a primary source of income for those with commercial farms.”

farmincomereliance

So only 31% of small family farms make any profit at all—-and that profit makes up only 7% of their annual income.

The document also states: “Median farm household income increased each year from 2008 to 2012. The increase largely reflects greater income from off-farm sources, where most farm households earn all of their income.

Can we all agree, this is just wrong? That farmers, who produce the food that nourishes us, should be able to make a living at what they do? That they shouldn’t have to work 40 hours per week at a day job, and then go home, exhausted, and raise livestock and work in the garden? That no human being should have to sacrifice every bit of their time so that the rest of the humans can work, rest in the evenings and eat???

If you would like to read more, visit the USDA website here.

Farmers are not rich. Farmers work hard, and more often than not, are giving their food away. It’s not ok. They have to pay the mortgage, the electricity, the feed bill, the cost of animals and seeds, and they deserve to make an income for their labor. Please stand with me in making a difference. Read about How to Bless a Farmer here. Tip your farmer. Pay fair prices for their food items. Do not expect that eggs, milk, meat or vegetables will cost the same as artificially priced grocery store foods.

Let’s work together to make farming an viable career!!

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Steph July 16, 2014 at 6:44 am

This article makes me so sad in so many ways. Farmers do indeed deserve to earn an income to support their families, just like any other profession. What if all farmers that didn’t make any money just stopped?? Where would we be??

My husband and I, along with our 3, almost 4 young children, just bought a farm with the intention to eventually turn it into a family business. Right now we are mainly growing for ourselves and selling excess. However, we are finding it extremely difficult finding people who will pay what we need for eggs, for example. So in order to not lose $ we have had to basically break even :/ despite the fact that we are different than any other producer in our area-organic, non GMO, soy & corn free eggs, and have been told our eggs are the best they have ever tasted. I get it-I could not afford $6.50/dozen for eggs either. But on the other end know what it takes to produce excellent, nutrient rich food. So where to go from here?! We have it in our hearts to be able to produce the kind of food for others that we feed our family. We also desire to be able to make enough money to support our efforts-not rich by any stretch, but enough to pay for our feed, expenses, bills etc. All people, especially children, deserve high-quality, nutrient rich food, at a cost that is affordable-both for the consumer and the farmer. Such a broken system because of all the subsidized grains etc. that this is even an issue. I am very sorry that your farming venture didn’t work out for you.

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FarmSchoolMarm July 16, 2014 at 6:43 pm

I came across your blog last week or so and was so sad to read about your having give up your dream.

We, too, farm in Oregon and I am very blessed that my husband’s “off farm job” is really on the farm – though it’s not farming. What we end up doing is raising food for our family and selling the excess to cover the costs to us. While we would prefer to be able to provide more good food to others, farming is HARD work and as you so eloquently point out in this post: most people don’t value good food enough to pay a price that is reasonable for the expense (in time and money) to the farmer.

Joel Salatin put it so well when a man in a fancy sports car drove up to his house to buy eggs and balked at the price. Salatin point out that he could tell by the man’s car that he obviously believed in quality – and was willing to pay for it. Why would he apply that principle to his vehicle, but not to the food that sustains his body.

And finally (sorry for the scattershot response – I’m late to milk the cow), I once saw information on what percentage of the family budget used to be used for groceries some 50 – 75 years ago – and what it is now. Now we pay a piddly amount comparatively – and complain about it! Many people want good food that is humanely raised…but most don’t want to adjust their lifestyle to afford it AND pay their farmer a living wage. (Googled and The Atlantic as a great graph illustrating the point: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/04/how-america-spends-money-100-years-in-the-life-of-the-family-budget/255475/)

I love how you continue to advocate for the farmer – and I hope you can be one again someday!

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Anonymous July 18, 2014 at 3:49 pm

EXCELLENT!!!! I can’t believe the ridiculous comments you’ve received. But this article is EXCELLENT.

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khaiti July 18, 2014 at 4:07 pm

so right on! It is SUCH hard work to raise food. I believe that small scale farmers need to focus on their passion and scale that to a level that provides for their needs, but you’ll likely still never get rich. Diversification is a killer for new small scale farmers (we are just figuring that out after 4 years.) I appreciate you sharing your story and just cringe to read the comments. People take all the food in the grocery stores totally for granted and have no idea how it came to be there and so cheap, Supporting small scale farmers is so important, the food tastes WAY better too!

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Peter July 20, 2014 at 2:27 pm

“Friends” they are not. Delete them all.

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Gail July 20, 2014 at 3:39 pm

We live on an organic banana farm in tropical Australia. I love the life style and that is the reason we do this because there ain’t much money in it!! We have the best tasting bananas in Australia, every one who tastes them says so. A few years back Dole went into organic bananas and actually admitted that it was selling them at a loss so us little farmers would stop so they could have the market to themselves (article was in the Cairns Post) Well we grew them anyway and because it was just us (no wages!!) we could still grow them at a tiny profit. There’s tasted like rubbish too!!

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Annabel July 20, 2014 at 10:26 pm

Australian farmers are not subsided by their governments like European farmers, so they have to compete with imported products, that even with the cost of freight, are cheaper than home grown ones. Once we decided to ‘farm’ our 10 ha and make hay from the wild oats and grasses that grew in the rich soil of our ex-dairy farm. We produced 80 round bales of nutritious hay which cost us $1800 to bale & $250 to cut, and then found nobody wanted it. We gave it away as compost for local fruit tree orchards as long as they picked it up themselves….we couldn’t even afford to give it away to drought hit farmers who needed it as the cost of freight was too high…. negative income sucks.

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Matthew Durham July 21, 2014 at 10:18 am

Great article! There is no way we could farm if my wife and 4 children didn’t help and I didn’t have a ” real job”

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OBPI Mama July 27, 2014 at 4:02 am

I read that “back in the day” even 50 years ago or so, people spent more than 3x they do on food now (as per their income)… it was something like 30% of their income (I may be off a little)? and now it’s like 12%… That is what frustrates me. Thanks for standing up for us small family farmers! My husband just went down to part-time at his outside job to help bring our 6th generation farm back to life some… it was in maintain mode for far too long… just making ends meet. With 460 acres, I’m praying we can get it to where it needs to be to make a living off of it… even if it’s not a fancy one!

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Dr. Karen Lee July 28, 2014 at 5:37 am

Great post Brenda! I’m sharing this post everywhere.

My farmers market is open only from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. It’s the saddest day of the year when I stop seeing my favorite farmers. I know their kids’ names and even their dog’s name who occasionally stops by to greet their customers. (I don’t even know my supermarket’s clerks’ names, never mind their kids’ names.) I pay $5 per dz eggs and yes, while I wince at the price, I buy 2 dzs a week because the eggs are far superior than any other types. I buy 2 ducks at $30 each because I love duck fat to cook with (duck fat is $10 per qt so I rather make my own after we eat the duck). I buy $23/lb grass fed/grass finished rib eye steaks because I know she never feeds her cows grains, and most of the produce at $3-5 a bundle with holes and some with bugs, which indicate that he doesn’t use pesticides, even though he’s not “certified” to be organic due to expense, so on and so on….

I may be inadvertently ‘supporting’ farmers but honestly, I’m being selfish when I shop at my farmers market because I’m healing my kids on GAPS diet to CURE my kids of leaky gut with nutritionally RICH farm fresh foods. It’s PRICELESS to CURE diseases with farm fresh foods. It’s PRICELESS to be free of pain and suffering. No prescription medicine can CURE leaky gut or multiple food allergies that so many people are suffering from eating GMO’s, CAFO meats, processed foods, and being exposed to environmental damages. Farm prices are NOTHING compared to medical expenses. Do people complain about their doctors’ visits? Do they complain about prescription pills? I recently heard that an inhaler called Symbacort costs $300 in cash. How do people afford it? If they cured their allergy induced asthma with farm fresh foods, they’d never have to buy it ever again!

I think we have to shift our mentality from “support your farmer” to “Your farmer is your healer.” Maybe, then, people would think twice about the cost.

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Gina September 16, 2014 at 9:47 am

I have to say I never considered farming as a means of income (and I wouldn’t call what we’re doing farming by any means, we’re barely gardening). But as we looked into buying a new greenhouse and my farmers market dreams started happening, I did the “chicken math” as on other blogger put it and determined there was no way it would ever be economically viable. I’ve got a good paying job and it seemed to me that I could make, without question, more at ones day work then a week farming – not to mention the opportunity costs of raising food for others.

I agree that people have a skewed view of what food should cost-but since when have farmers ever made much money? It seems to me that most farmers of the past (like 60 years and back) were raising and caring for their own families and supplementing their income with their excess. They farmed as a way of life, not as a means of income. They only ones making money were the early commercial farms or sharecrop owners.
Perhaps the idea should be to encourage more people to to become sufficienct in raising their own food. Excesses can be traded and sold and between a large enough group, you should be able to find what you need (because no one grows everything!). Maybe we should be getting back to reliance on ourselves- when even everyone in the suburbs had a backyard garden.

(My historical knowledge is entirely anecdotal and non researched)

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Megan Stevens April 18, 2015 at 5:50 am

Great post, Brenda!!! Just shared. Sorry for all you’ve been through. We totally understand, owning a local farm-based restaurant. We live intimately with farmers and go through the same struggles ourselves that you mention. SO sad when we see so many of our local consumers going to restaurants that green-wash their food but really get provisions from Sysco, a local mostly conventional food and goods provider. Competitors love to advertise what they DO do right- like no corn syrup or organic greens; BUT that’s nothing if they aren’t also buying grass-fed, organic dairy and meat, (not to mention avoiding polyunsaturated oils when cooking). Even eating out needs to take the local farmer into account. People budget for eating out as cheaply as possible and for alcohol, not for supporting local and organic meat and produce. I pray this will change or folks like us can’t stay in business.

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