A report from the Farm Foundation, Agriculture’s Strategic Role in Feeding and Fueling a Growing World, notes: “Public understanding of agriculture has changed significantly over the last 75 years. The segment of the population engaged in agriculture has dwindled so that farm households now represent only a small share of all households in the U.S. At the same time, many consumers are increasingly concerned about how their food is produced. Some of these concerns are related to food safety, while others reflect…labor standards and animal treatment.”
It’s apparent that there’s a growing disconnect between producers and consumers. The report goes on to say, “Agricultural producers sometimes struggle to understand public attitudes.” But that works both ways. As an industry, we need to demonstrate that family farmers:
- efficiently produce a safe, reliable and secure food supply.
- are good stewards of our environment and natural resources.
- remain committed to the values, work ethic and lifestyle that made this country great.
Besides the growing disconnect, there are numerous threats affecting our farming heritage. Internally, most farms lose money, and many family farmers have off-farm careers to make ends meet. A full 70% of farms will not be passed on to a second generation. Of those that do get passed on, 90% will not make it to a third generation. And of those that do, 96% will not make it to a fourth.
Externally, there is a trend of attacks fueled by misinformation and exaggeration. Just pick up a newspaper or check the best-seller list. Many assert that America’s farming practices are heartless and irresponsible. Once a symbol of our nation’s abilities, agriculture has become a scapegoat for the national deficit, high food costs, an incoherent energy policy and obesity.
The family farm is in trouble. We must stand up as an industry and be counted. We must get better at telling our story. As an equipment dealer, you can help. Visit with your neighbors, speak at a Rotary gathering or write a blog. Engage with your grower customers and help them address their concerns.
Together we can save our farm economy before it goes the way of manufacturing, logging, maritime, fishing and other industries. But it will take a team of concerned individuals determined to make a difference. Can you help your customers take the actions necessary to ensure lasting success? Can you help them answer the call for transparency? The following tools may help:
Strategic business plan. Difficult to write, but invaluable for growing an operation. You can provide an objective point of view and specialized knowledge.
Operational documents (operating agreement, family employment policy, job descriptions, employee handbook). Running a farm more like a business and less like a family potluck can help to separate business and emotional issues.
Professional development. This can benefit each member of the farm management team. The industry is moving at lightning speed and demands leaders.
Community outreach. Farms don’t thrive in a vacuum. Community service and public relations (adopt-a-school; agritourism) encourage transparency.
Strengthen the family unit. Farm families must protect their financial security, inform members of transition plans and improve plans as goals are achieved.
Each of these components celebrates our farming heritage. They protect our nation’s food sovereignty, promote agriculture as a profession, pass viable family farming operations on to the next generation and counteract uninformed special interests. Your unique position as a strategic partner and your relationship with your clients can help to fortify the food industry in the U.S.