The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and headlines across the country declare boom times for America's farmers as a result of high prices for corn, soy, wheat and cotton. And yet, the Farm Aid hotline continues to ring with farmers seeking financial advice and credit counseling. Why? Because the truth is, high crop prices don't mean that all farmers are raking in the dough.
Even with high prices, farmers are seeing their earnings eaten away by the higher cost of fuel, seed and feed. Livestock farmers especially are impacted, because they have to buy those high cost crops to feed their herds. Meanwhile, the farmers who grow our fruits and vegetables have higher costs, but aren't receiving the record prices that commodity crop farmers are. And there are our dairy farmers, who have been in the red for nearly three years now due to extremely low milk prices—if they're lucky enough to have even made it through at all. Even if the price of milk rises above the cost of producing milk, dairy farmers will still be paying off these bad times for years to come.
I'd like to let you know about two reports that shed light on the economic challenges family farmers are up against. The first, Still Waiting for the Farm Boom, by Timothy A. Wise of Tufts University, makes plain what family farmers—small and mid-scale farmers, what I call the little guys—actually earn in a year from their farm. Would it surprise you to hear that it's less than $20,000? And that's with farm payments (the vast majority of subsidies, as we know, go to the very biggest guys—those farmers selling more than $500,000 a year, and taking home the record income USDA likes to talk about.).
The second report, Don't Bank On It (PDF link), is a survey of farm credit counselors and farm advocates, on-the-ground folks who really know the farm reality. It was conducted by Farm Aid and our friends, the National Family Farm Coalition, Food and Water Watch and the Rural Advancement Foundation International-USA. Don't Bank On It highlights an issue that Farm Aid has worked on since our start in 1985: farm credit. Available, affordable credit is crucial for all farmers—to plant the seeds, to expand their herds, to purchase equipment and oftentimes, especially after bad years, to keep the farm afloat. Our survey found that since 2009, farmers have had a harder time finding credit, and that doesn't just hurt farmers—it hurts us all.
I'd like to believe the headlines about farmers making record profits, but the farmers calling the Farm Aid hotline and our friends in the countryside speak the truth about the ongoing struggles of family farmers. Help me get the real word out, for good food, family farmers and a stronger America: family farmers need fair prices and available, affordable credit.