United to Promote Family Farming

Posted on | December 11, 2014 | No Comments

Eric Hoese was a 2012/13 Beginning Farmers Institute participant

On Sept. 4, Minnesota Farmers Union member Eric Hoese attended the International Summit of Young Farmers in Bordeaux, France. This event brought together young farmers from 47 different countries to discuss growing the population of young farmers worldwide. Together the farmers drafted a manifesto, To make family farming a solution for the future, which encouraged the continued support and creation of new programs to support the installation of young farmers.

The manifesto consisted of three parts, each corresponding to a roundtable discussion featuring young farmers. Hoese participated in a panel that focused on the different ways young and beginning farmers can enter into farming, whether they do not have a farming background or come from a family farm. Drawing on what he learned from other farmers in NFU’s Beginning Farmer Institute, as well as his own personal experience transitioning onto his family farm, Hoese was able to explain the different options and challenges associated with entering into farming.









Farmers from Brazil, Senegal, France and Peru also participated in the panel. Together, they stressed the importance of leaving a legacy, transferring responsibility and ownership to the next generation and helping young farmers through government programs.

While attending the summit, Hoese also learned about the different approaches other nations use to promote and protect family agriculture. For example, France can stop the sale of any piece of agricultural land. This oversight and power is used to prevent corporate acquisition of land. While the various countries and governments approach farming very differently, the summit focused on solidarity. Hoese characterized the experience as a unifying one, stating, “We are all in the same boat no matter how we farm,” and “we all need to unite…and keep young farmers in farming.”

Click here to view a copy of the International Summit of Young Farmers manifesto.


Commodity policy choice: Treat the symptoms or address the cause of low crop prices

Posted on | December 3, 2014 | No Comments

by Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn.

Read the original post at agpolicy.org

When it comes to developing policy prescriptions to deal with the dynamic of long periods of low prices interrupted by much shorter periods of high prices, two approaches are possible: one approach provides symptomatic relief and the other treats the cause of low crop prices. One must choose one approach or the other.

If policy analysts develop and policymakers adopt public policies that treat the proximate cause of low prices—the presence of a supply that exceeds demand—there is no need for symptomatic relief. On the other hand, providing symptomatic relief (to short term price disturbances when prices are high and little relief when prices are low) ultimately becomes very expensive and risks losing public support for agricultural programs when farmers need them the most.

For many years, agricultural economists understood that agriculture was different from many other sectors of the economy in that an oversupply of grain and oilseeds and the ensuing low prices did not bring about a timely self-correction in agricultural markets. Low crop prices did not cure low crop prices within a reasonable time frame.

In other sectors of the economy, low prices cause suppliers to reduce their production of the item in excess supply and consumers to increase their purchases. The result is that supply and demand come back into balance at a profitable price level quite quickly. This timely self-correction does not occur in agricultural commodity markets.

Because they understood the dynamics of the market, policy analysts worked to develop policies that would isolate a portion of the supply from the marketplace, bringing about a balance between supply and demand and the return of prices that kept producers in business. To keep from accumulating ever-larger isolated stocks, policies were also developed to reduce production to allow demand to catch up with production.

Understandably, farmers were often frustrated with these policies. And from the perspective of an individual farm operation this made sense. If they had been allowed to produce more they could have earned more, they reasoned. And that is true for an individual farm. But when all farms seek to increase production, the result is an oversupply that drives prices downward for everyone, and the size of the decline in prices is greater than the increase in production.

In recent years, policy makers and many agricultural economists have simply chosen to ignore these dynamics and instead argue against policies that manage supply. In place of traditional supply management policies, they have advocated for policies that use crop insurance to protect farmers against variations in prices—symptomatic relief.

The problem is that these policies only work well when prices are at or above the cost of production. If prices remain low for an extended period of time, farmers end up paying premiums for policies that do not even cover the cost of production.

We understand that farmers do not want to hear this kind of analysis; they would rather hear about booming export demand, a growing ethanol demand, and a new “price floor.” When we are invited to speak to farm groups, producers come up afterwards and emphatically say, “I don’t like what you are telling me!” and then they continue, “But I needed to hear that.” When prices were high, many economists were telling farmers that there was a new price floor undergirded by increased input costs.

During this period, we continued to tell farmers about the low prices that would come when the yearly increases in ethanol demand began to stagnate and supply continued to increase. We cautioned farmers to put some of the increased profits in the bank instead of buying lots of new machinery and driving up the price of land. Today, some of those who talked only about high prices and a new plateau are saying to farmers, “I hope you put some money away during the good times.” Good advice, but a couple years late.

The trend in recent decades is toward policies that tend to provide producers with little income support when prices are low for an extended period of time. As a result, the associated costs of maintaining a vibrant agriculture can actually be more costly to U.S. taxpayers through emergency programs/payments. Failing that the results could be devastating to a large swath of farmers. For farmers in less developed countries, lower prices have severe consequences. When price are low in countries where agriculture is a large portion of the economy, the impact on the economy is severe.

The challenge of policy analysis is not to design public policies that make the good times even better; rather it is to have policies in place to help protect farmers during the long periods of low prices. Over the last century, the periods of low prices have been much longer than the boom times.


Family Farms in Africa

Posted on | November 10, 2014 | No Comments

By Marshall Matz and Peter Matz

Kudos to National Farmers Union for recognizing the link between family faming and meeting the challenge of global food security. Family farms are indeed the key to ending world hunger.

First, for purposes of this blog, let’s define a smallholder farmer as anyone tilling less than two hectors, or 5 acres. In most of the world, family farming means smallholder farming, usually by women.

Africa is an important case in point. Let’s look at some numbers—

  • Half of all the underutilized and unused agriculture land in the world is in Africa;
  • 65% of all Africans are involved in farming and food production;
  • 70% of disposable income is spent on food;
  • Most of the smallholder farmers are women using a hoe; and
  • Yields for maize are 20 bushels per acre, or one ton per hector.

These numbers paint the picture of a significant challenge, but they also demonstrate a major opportunity. African farming is on the cusp of great change and its own unique green revolution. African farmers can double production in the next five years and triple production in the next ten.

The technology is coming on line. Seeds are being created for Africa’s climate and soil. Markets are developing and iPhones are being used for extension services (Africa is very advanced in communication technology).  Soil health is a priority. And the Africa Union, with the support of the G-7 and G-20, has made agriculture a priority for all African nations. Several African nations are very close to being self sufficient in food production.










In the U.S., technology is a modern tractor with GPS and an air-conditioned cab, which is connected to the Chicago Board of Trade. In Africa, “technology” is a rope that shows farmers how far to space out rows and seeds, and how far from the seeds to put the fertilizer. The biggest challenge in Africa is getting the new technology to smallholder farmers and teaching them what to do with it.

That is where the “agro-dealer” has stepped in. Agro-dealers are private sector businesses located in rural villages that sell hybrid seeds, fertilizers and other inputs to smallholder farmers. They also conduct classes for the farmers…the African extension service. There are now some 20,000 agro-dealers in the key countries that comprise Africa’s two major bread baskets. We need 200,000 agro-dealers.

Much of the progress in Africa is being coordinated by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). AGRA was started less than ten years ago by the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations, and was originally chaired by former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan. Mr. Annan is now the Chair Emeritus and the current chairman is Strive Masiyiwa. Mr. Masiyiwa is also chairman of the telecommunications giant Econet, but is the first to say that agriculture is the key to Africa’s economic development.

And that brings us to the last point: Increasing production for smallholder farmers is the way to eliminate hunger, but it is also the way for Africa to grow itself out of poverty. Six of the ten fastest growing countries in the world are in Africa. Africa holds the key to the future on many levels. It is important for the U.S. to recognize this and continue establishing/improving economic and political relations with Africa’s 54 countries—which comprise 25% of all the votes in the United Nations. African farmers are on the rise, and so is Africa.

Family Farmers Offer Model to Combat World Hunger

Posted on | November 4, 2014 | No Comments

By Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union president

As many of the world’s poor face hunger every day, U.S. family farms provide a working model for stability and incredible productivity that much of the world may want to emulate. Family farmers are, by nature, environmentalists who care deeply about the land and its future productivity. Through implementing sustainable food production, protecting the land and environment, and combatting poverty, family farms have helped drastically reduce world hunger. This is especially true over the past two decades, as prevalence of undernourishment has fallen from 18.7 to 11.3 percent globally.

Chances are, the last thing you ate came from a family-owned farm. Seventy percent of the world’s food products are produced by family farmers. Their practices, which are often more productive than those of large industrial agriculture operations, allow family farmers to combat hunger and malnutrition by getting the most out of their land while managing their farms’ impact on the environment.

Family farming also combats poverty and generates well-being, not only in rural communities, but urban ones as well. Forty percent of the world’s households depend on family farming for their livelihood, and of the 3 billion rural inhabitants in developing countries, 2.5 billion belong to families working in agriculture. In contributing to gross domestic product (GDP), growth originating in agriculture reduces poverty twice as much as equivalent growth in other industries.  By supporting policies that help family farmers, Americans are joining the fight against hunger and poverty worldwide.

National Farmers Union’s commitment to family farmers includes ensuring they can remain competitive and productive, which allows them to continue to be the backbone of agriculture in the fight against world hunger. This fight includes advocating for strong farm safety net policies, working to protect important policies like Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) and fighting every day for fair competition, not only in the U.S., but abroad. By safeguarding the interests of family farmers, we can allow them to help solve local, national and international issues such as hunger and poverty.

Last month, NFU joined the international community in celebrating World Food Day. This year’s theme was Family Farming: Caring for the Earth. It recognized the important contributions of family farming in the fight against hunger around the world as well as to food security and nutrition, management of natural resources, protection of the environment, and sustainable development.

Despite recent improvements, one in nine people around the world still struggles with hunger every day. One out of every six children is underweight, and poor nutrition causes nearly half of all deaths in children under five. These problems are prevalent across the globe, regardless of which country you live in. In order to address the issue, we must start at the source: food production. By supporting local family farms here in the U.S. and policies that benefit their well-being, we can continue to be a model for feeding the hungry and impoverished across the world.

Relying on Each Other

Posted on | October 24, 2014 | No Comments

By Hannah Smith-Brubaker and Chandler H. Scott-Smith
Village Acres Farm & FoodShed, Mifflintown, PA, USA

We are mother (Hannah) and daughter (Chandler) living with our family on a multi-generational farm in rural America. Our farm offers a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program to 200 families year round and we also sell through an organic growers’ cooperative that markets to restaurants in cities at some distance from us. The farm has been operating for 30 years and every new season brings new lessons and new opportunities.

We grow about 100 varieties of vegetables and berries annually. We also pasture chickens, ducks, turkeys, goats and pigs, and offer flowers in the summer months. As you can imagine, this diversity in our farm system requires the involvement of many people. The benefit of this system is that diversity of crops and diversity of ideas is our best insurance for a viable future. This takes comprehensive coordination and heavy reliance on effective communication and healthy relationships, which can be challenging.

In farming, one cannot survive by taking a “go it alone” attitude. We rely on each other, our neighbors and friends, and our local community almost daily in order to not only survive, but also thrive in agriculture. This life is about more than food. It’s an opportunity to be in a relationship, sometimes in ways that make us feel quite vulnerable, with other people who will surely find themselves in similar circumstances at some point and will then rely on us.

A typical CSA delivery day will include final harvesting, packing and delivering of 200 boxes of produce. Each box contains a week’s worth of produce for a family. When we get to the distribution point, one of our CSA work share members, who trades work for produce, will meet us and help us deliver our product to our customers. We could never connect fully with 200 families in the 2 hours we spend at distribution without the support of work share members.

During wholesale cooperative days we do our final harvesting, packing and transporting of produce to the local distribution hub. We provide transportation to the distribution center for our neighbors who belong to the same cooperative and do not have electricity or motorized vehicles with our large truck. We attempt to provide our customers with produce grown only on our farm. When we have a crop failure, we rely on these neighbors to bring a full season’s harvest to our customers. These relationships are built on needing each other, and their mutual benefit is beyond measure.

We attempt to secure many of our off-farm expenses through trade. We don’t have dairy animals on our farm, so on a weekly basis, we trade vegetables for milk and butter with another farmer who has plenty of milk, but needs vegetables. We’ve traded for medical appointments, equipment, learning opportunities and even the rare vacation. Just recently, we traded for the services of more experienced farmer friends to help us out with our pigs. It was hard for us to ask for help because it meant admitting that, in getting such a “great deal” on some piglets, we had overlooked that they hadn’t been castrated. We were a little embarrassed, but because we are committed to good animal husbandry, we put our pride aside. There was a good bit of laughing on the part of our friends when they arrived and we were still chasing pigs out in the pasture, but the job got done in exchange for a nice meal, a fermented beverage, and a rare opportunity to just sit, enjoy the stars, and visit! If we hadn’t reached out, we’d have missed a fantastic time together.

Whether it’s a distribution day or not, there is no end to the planning, fieldwork, seeding, planting, tending, harvesting, packing or storage responsibilities to be tended to on a daily basis. There are six in our family (three generations), two full-time on-farm apprentices, and six to eight seasonal workers who help make it all happen. The diversity of voice that comes with a work team that has diversity in experience, gender, age and belief systems often makes for lively discussion when decision time comes. While we don’t always agree, we are always certain to arrive at a solution superior to one derived from singular thought and design. At a heart level, we trust we are all on the same path to make this a rich and rewarding way of living for us all.

In addition to the farm, I (Hannah) work for the Farmers Union and often have correspondence and other service work to tend to. Working with the Farmers Union gives me an opportunity to connect with farmers across the nation and here in Pennsylvania to further our goal of enhancing the lives of family farmers through education, legislative work and the promotion of cooperative business structures. I don’t think I could work for an organization that wasn’t furthering the viability of family farms. I have the opportunity to rally other farmers, visit with local government officials, state legislators and US Congressional members around issues that are important to us: transparency in labeling, renewable fuels, access to funding and tax relief, and community access to healthy foods.

It is a sad but true reality that our nation, which some would argue is the wealthiest in the world, suffers from lack of access to healthy foods for some of our most vulnerable community members. This is why our farm offers what we call our “community fund.” This fund makes it possible for our customers to have a share in our harvest, regardless of their ability to pay. Through private donations from our current members, community events and our farm match, we are able to offer no-cost or low-cost participation in our CSA when someone is truly in need. We also opened a community building (our FoodShed) several years ago, on the urging of our members. This is a space where members can gather. We also use it hold community meals, process value-added products and hold free live music events in an effort to build community around us when, particularly in a rural area, we can so often feel alone. Most importantly, we are working to build relationships within our most immediate community in order that our most local food system, or “foodshed” if you will, is strengthened.

I (Chandler – 16yrs) homeschool and our family believes in “life-schooling.” This means I learn through my daily life experiences here on the farm; I have personal learning goals in addition to the goals of the farm that require my attention. I find my life to be full of opportunities for learning. I have my own business selling salves and balms, which I taught myself to make while giving consideration to different properties of herbs and healing plants. I handle our CSA extras sales, process credit card payments and help with bookkeeping. I tend to many of our animals. I seed herbs and other plant starts in the spring for selling. Additionally, I am always looking for learning opportunities that I can secure through trade or my own efforts. For example, we have a CSA member who organizes writing circles so my brother, friends and I learn from her in exchange for a share in our CSA. I wanted to learn to milk goats and learned by working for a neighboring farm. I have now mastered milking and caring for a small herd of dairy goats. I also get the benefit of being able to bring home goat milk that I can use that to make a variety of cheeses and body care products. I share these with my family, friends, and our customers. I also travel some with my mother to advocate for farming. This last winter, I got to meet with the US Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden and talk to her about our farm. Sometimes, it can be hard to navigate a primarily adult-oriented society, but my family tries as hard as possible to include children in every aspect of day-to-day life. I love the life that we live. It is flexible and inclusive and joyful.

Every night, we sit down as a family (and, as often as we can, as a whole farm) to take time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and to express gratitude for all the people and resources in our lives. Often this simple act reminds us of how connected to and reliant we are on each other. Much meaning is brought to our lives when we rely on each other; this is our best insurance for a vibrant and viable future.


More information about our farm is available at www.villageacresfarm.com. You can also follow us on Facebook or Twitter. We’d love to hear about how you rely on your community to make a go at it as a farmer.

More information about the Farmers Union is available at www.nfu.org or, in Pennsylvania, www.pafarmersunion.org.



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About NFU

National Farmers Union was founded in 1902 in Point, Texas, to help the family farmer address profitability issues and monopolistic practices. NFU works to protect and enhance the economic well-being and quality of life for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through advocating grassroots-driven policy positions adopted by its membership.
Learn more at nfu.org

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