29 May 2011 - Big vs. Little - Here are Your Thoughts

A couple of weeks ago I asked you to share your thoughts with me on the ongoing debate of big farms vs. little farms and once again you responded. Let me share some of your comments.

This one. . . “It seems that this argument, big vs. little, has been going on forever. When I was in High School in the mid 1960s, I remember our Vo-Ag instructor, Mr. Fred Morris, said there is only one reason to get bigger or make any other management decision and that is to BE MORE EFFICIENT. Of course, most people seem to think that big is always more efficient than little. Not always so.”

Another one from a non-farming farm resident who said “I talk to my farming friends and neighbors and they farm for a living. They don’t care if the crops they raise are food, fuel or fiber. If the money outlook is good, the risk is low and it is not too much work, they will grow it. I am not criticizing farmers, but farmers have enough to worry about without worrying about feeding the world.”

Then this from a hog, corn, soybean farmer. . . “I learned a long time ago when I was in leadership positions and traveling a lot not to mention the size of my operation. To some it was huge while others wondered why I bothered to get up in the morning. Many factors contribute to size of operations. For some, being a large operator is their primary goal just so they can say they are. Others it is strictly a business decision to expand a profitable business. The debate will continue, but economics, management skills and personal preference will dictate the outcome. I suspect the number of producers will decline; there will be closer relationships between producers and their input suppliers as well as the end users of their production.”

Then this comment. . . “I see a need for both small and large operations. My grandparents helped supplement their income with a small 5-acre farm. Today I think that would be considered a hobby farm. It is getting harder for today’s farmers to remain profitable. If a farmer raises three kids and they want to remain on the farm as adults, then they may need to expand the operation. Bigger operations are needed sometimes, just to break even.”

Finally, this comment about farmers. . . “ It does not matter what the size of a parcel of land is that grows food. What matters is that people who grow food care about the land; if they do not, they will not be in business very long. It does not matter if they grow the food organically or not. They are the most honest people I have ever met. Their word is true, their handshake is real; they will do what it takes to feed us and the world, big or little.”

And so the debate continues. Several of you took issue with me, claiming my comments showed I was against small farms in favor of big farms. That is not the case. I have said many times over the years there is plenty of room for big farms and small farms, organic farms and conventional farms, and we need them all to feed the world.

Thank you again for allowing me to share your thoughts on this week’s Samuelson Sez.