SO, YOU THINK FARMERS ARE RICH?

It is a common misconception, thinking that farmers are big money-makers. Did you know that in 2011, the average total farm household income was $57,067, with the farm income alone being NEGATIVE $2,250? Still think farmers are rich?

Commodity prices are publicly broadcasted, but the input prices are not. It has become more expensive than ever to put seed corn and soybeans in the ground. It cost farmers just at $500 per acre to put the crop in the ground. So, figure they get lucky and sell their corn for $7.00 per bushel. With a yield of 150 bushels to the acre, that would be about $1,000. Take out the $500 for the seed, fertilizers, crop insurance, storage, hired labor, and all things necessary to keep the crop healthy, and the farmer is left with $500 per acre. With that money they have to buy their big pieces of machinery, such as a tractor, planter, or combine. Still think they are rich?

For most farmers, their crop production is their only source of income. So after all the business operations are complete, they have to support their family. With all of that, they do not have the leisure of having the opportunity of calling in sick or just taking the day off. Each day is crucial in their operation so they can be as productive as possible. There is always that possibility that they could lose everything in a matter of days, weeks, or months by wind, fire, or other disaster. Farming is an unbelievably uncertain profession to go into.

Farm subsidies are a very important part of a farmer’s business. What happens if there is a really bad drought? Or a new insect or disease introduced to their area? What if commodity prices are down? The farmer still paid that initial money up front to put the crop in the ground. When the yield is below normal, the government steps in and helps the farmer out. Private companies do not have the means of accommodating the riskiness associated with farming.

The subsidies are not free money, either. The farmers have to put forth a lot of work in order to show that their yields are down. For most programs, there is an average bushel per acre that they have as a standard. Another stipulation is that the farmer cannot enroll in multiple programs. They choose what best fits their needs.

The government is helping out its producers, but that gives a lot of help to the consumers too. Farmers are our source of food, fuel, clothing, basically anything you can think of. Would you rather support the government and our farmers, or rely of the Middle Eastern countries to provide us with our gasoline? The government has to guarantee food security for its citizens. Also, to make sure we can sustain our country and not have to rely on others to support our needs.

Do you still think that farmers are rich? Maybe the farm subsidies are not such a bad deal after all.

Katlyn Pieper
Illinois State University

A FARMER’S VOICE

What comes to mind when you think of a farmer? Is it someone who grows food for us and hogs up the road with their tractors in the fall? Or maybe someone who works for the government, providing specifically what they are told. If you are not involved in the agriculture world, you may not know what really goes in to farming, and in return, what comes out of it.

Agriculture is all around us, we sometimes just don’t realize. Think about what you ate today, a good percentage of that food was most likely grown by a farmer. It was planted, harvested, and sent to the store for your consumption. But do you ever wonder where all of that food comes from? And what the decision-making process is behind growing the product was? The answer links back to our American farmers.  

A common misconception among today’s society is that the government tells farmers what to plant and how to plant it. This is in fact false. Farmers do have their own voice on their farm. It is ultimately their decision what type of crop they want to grow, as well as what brand of seed, fertilizer, chemicals, etc. they desire to use once it is planted. Whether its corn, beans, wheat, grass, or another type of plant, farmers make the decision on their own with limited help from outside influences.

Much of their decision on what to plant each year relies on personal preference. Many farmers follow a field rotation of planting corn one year, and then beans the next.  Although, sometimes this pattern can be disrupted if the farmer feels they will receive more money from planting a certain crop back-to-back years, or if other incentives arise that persuade them in a different direction.

When to plant, and when to harvest are determined by the farmer as well. Depending on the crop and the weather conditions throughout the growing season, farmers can assume the best time to take action in their fields. Farmers are their own boss, and can make the decisions on what is best for themselves and their business on their own. (Insert image 2 here).

However, the government does have a say on a certain type of land. This exception is called Highly Erodible Land, or HEL. HEL is land that is steeper sloping and has a higher possibility of eroding, or washing away. Government regulations on this type of land state that you must do a no-till process on the field. No-till means, that after harvesting the crops in the fall, farmers will not do any tilling work to loosen up the ground to prepare for planting the following spring. This process will leave the ground firmer, and thus make it more difficult to wash away, therefore slowing down the erosion process in the future.

Most farms are independently ran operations. Hard work and sweat are the things we notice about farmers from a distance, but behind the scenes is another story. Not only do they work hard to feed America, but farmers tackle a major decision-making process every day. They have their own voice, and success on their farms can be measured by their decisions.

Amy Erlandson
Illinois State University