Monday, June 7, 2010

But won't that hurt small farmers??

I had the duty this weekend to make the trip to Detroit to pick my wife at the airport, but it gave me the opportunity to catch up with an old roommate from my MSU days that lives in the area now. Now, this gentleman and his wife are both extremely intelligent, highly educated people. They are open to ideas and often as us questions about agriculture and food safety. This weekend proved to be no different.

Jim and I headed out to a local restaurant for some good bar-b-cue and a couple of cold domestics. A few minutes into the conversation, the topic swung over to agriculture and farming. Jim wanted to know how the farming was going, what we were up to, etc. At some point we started discussing the new technology we use on the farm. I explained that for example, we have auto steer in our sprayers for row crops, and that we hoped to have the same technology soon in the orchards. He asked if I thought we’d ever see fully automatic sprayers (no driver needed). I told him I believed so, and that we’d see them in the next 5 years. Just as the food arrived, he quipped “I’ve got to believe something like that would hurt small farmers, because bigger farmers can afford the technology and farm more land”. Dinner arrived, and the topic changed.

Here’s the response, because I know Jim reads this blog.

At first glance, yes, I can see where many people would see that point. However, it is interesting that in orchard crops, far more technology is in the hands of small farmers, instead of large farmers. The reason is simple-the technology is complicated, and expensive, and many of the large farmers rely of hired labor to run those machines. They don’t trust those workers with that type of an investment, so they don’t make it. But it brings me to another point I’d like to discuss-where do all the “small” farmers go?

Well, let me tell you.

My family has made no secret in the last 5 years that we want to grow our business and expand our acres. So when the opportunity presents itself, we take it. For example, two years ago, my brother and I had an opportunity present itself to us. A neighbor had become widowed, her husband having died of cancer. Her farm sat, and she had no children or grandchildren who wanted to farm. My brother and I stepped up and purchased that farm and equipment from her. For the first time in 30 years, there was no longer a person with the last name of Fraser farming that land. In fact, that family has left agriculture all together. So to some, that’s a “small family farm” that is gone; and they are right. That family’s farm is no longer theres-however, my family carries on that tradition. The same goes for a large tract of row crop land we picked up this year. For the first time in several generations, this other family is not farming. But it was time for the current owners to retire, and no children or grandchildren wanted to carry on with the farm. What should happen in these situations? Should we just let the land sit idle? Should we develop it all into houses? If not my family, then who?

Our view is someone is going to farm it, it might as well be us. People are going to need to eat tomorrow, and I intend to feed them, wether they like it or not.

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