Let’s Celebrate You — the American Fruit Grower [Opinion]

One of the things that jumped out at me when reviewing the responses to our now-annual State of the Industry survey — and I want to thank all 632 of you, especially you 429 growers — was how different farming is from other occupations.

It wasn’t so much what was said in many of the growers’ responses, it was the tone. There was a personable feel to them that I just don’t think you’d get if you were surveying accountants, architects, or lawyers.

Why this is so is pretty simple; most farms are family farms. That’s why few things tick me off as much as hearing about anything helping farmers being described by environmental groups, and, even more unfortunately, most consumer media, as “pro-agribusiness.” They make it sound like you’re a soulless, corporate entity. That is, of course, baloney.

This slogan emblazoned on a bumper promoting our magazine resonates as much today as it did more than 10 years ago.
This slogan emblazoned on a bumper promoting our magazine resonates as much today as it did more than 10 years ago.

Consider a new report by the USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS), which shows not only just how dependent America is on family farms, but also how family farms are independent of government.

While farms are often depicted as benefiting from “corporate welfare” as they pursue “factory farming” practices, USDA’s “America’s Diverse Family Farms: 2016 Edition” tells a different story. Family farms of various types account for 99% of all farms, and those farms account for 89% of all production as of 2015.

Even I can handle this math: The statistic above means that so-called corporate farms actually account for just over 1/10th of our country’s total agricultural output. “Big (Bad) Agribusiness?” I don’t think so.

Another thing that goes under-reported is that 72% of all farms received no farm-related government payments in 2015. All you ever hear is that farmers are on the government dole. That’s especially galling to fruit growers, who are definitely among the 72% who ask no quarter.

The report also notes small farms are more likely to have an operating profit margin. Farm households are generally not low-income when compared with other U.S. households and U.S. households headed by someone who is self-employed.

Sure, not really something to boast about. Unspectacular, but rock-solid, kind of like a lot of growers I know.

Obviously, not all farms are small. But building a small business into a big one is something to be admired, not vilified as “Big Agribusiness.” That sort of thing can happen when you’re successful.

Since 1991 the ERS researchers say farms producing $5 million or more have increased their share of production to 23% in 2015, up from 13%. The mid-range farms with $1 million to $5 million in production rose to 29%, up from 19%.

Consolidation is almost inevitable in today’s business world. But compared to other industries, agriculture — especially specialty agriculture such as fruit growing — doesn’t come close. Most fruit growers, big or small, are independent, often fiercely so.

That’s part of the attraction. Most growers are born into the occupation, the lifestyle. What’s intriguing is seeing the people who have no family history in farming who want to get into the business.

What often appeals to those people is the independence. Is there anything more American than being self-reliant, living off the land? I don’t think so.

So thanks again for responding to our survey, but also for doing what you do, and being who you are.

Happy New Year.

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