Many consultants and agricultural experts are trying to impress upon ranchers and farmers that our work should be a business and not a way of life, that in order to survive we must have better plans and become more businesslike: “Agriculture must cease to be a lifestyle and begin to be a business.” But farming and ranching can never really be just a business, for the family unit, as it is for big corporations. Yet, if we were to rely only on the “big guys” for our food, America would starve. We need the family farms.
Although we were excited about being involved in this comprehensive research project, we must admit we had mixed feelings about doing the NEON enterprise budgets right from the start. Our reluctance was not due to going public with the numbers, but because economics has never been a driving force behind the goal setting and decision making we use on our farm. Right livelihood has always been a higher priority than profit. Consequently, most of our management practices have been based on what seems right for the land, for the animals, for our customer, ourselves, and the larger society – realizing all along that, being human, we will never get it absolutely right.
There may be some who might suggest that this is a result of large farm size and economies of scale. While the big farms are huge farms, the data shows that fully half (54%) of all United States farmers who depend on their practice of agriculture for the livelihood do so on 179 acres or less and even half of those (27%) are farming 49 acres or less. Contrary to much of the popular sentiment, it’s the farmers who are proving that small farms can be just as viable in sustaining agrarian livelihoods as large farms and perhaps more so.
Does farming pay? Can a young man of brains and ambition, who has his way to make in the world, find in agriculture a fair field for his efforts? These questions have been asked from time to time for as long as I can remember, though more often and more earnestly of late years, when combinations of capital and the tendency to do business on a large scale have narrowed the field of individual enterprise. Many young people, chafing at the idea of being mere cogs in the industrial wheel, are looking earnestly for some opportunity through which they may become masters of their own business.