Farms come in all sizes.
Farmers can have 2 acres or 20,000, and each plays a role in our industry.
When I make contact with producers for Ozarks Farm & Neighbor, they might say their operation is “too small” for anyone to be interested. My response is that everyone has a story to tell about their farm, a story uniquely their own – a story worth mentioning.
According to the USDA’s National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), more than 90 percent of farms in the U.S. are classified as small, with a gross cash farm income of $250,000 or less.
The NIDA also states family and small farms are vital to the economy. Not only do they support the competitiveness and sustainability of rural and farm economies, but they also serve to protect and enhance natural resources and the environment, and provide a nursery for the development of new enterprises and marketing systems.
Being a smaller producer is tough. If you have only a handful of cows and happen to lose a calf or two, it’s a hard hit to your operation. If you only have a certain number of plants and get hit with a bug infestation, you might not have any salable produce for the year.
Smaller producers must consider how they are going to market products from the farm, be it produce, meat, milk, eggs or other items. Do you sell livestock through your local sale barn, or try to market animals or meat directly to consumers? Do you look at producing replacement females or herd sires? Do you go to farmers markets or invite folks to your farm to pick their own? How do you price your products?
What if you want to expand? Can you afford to purchase more property? Is there even property available to buy? At what point is more too much? Can you leave your “town job” and become a full-time farmer?
I recently read an article citing the reasons why small farmers fail. The top reason mentioned in the article was the failure to treat the farm as a business. Farmers must make a profit from the operation, or at least break even, to be successful. This isn’t new or breaking news for most folks, but there’s more to farming for many producers. It’s the passion for farming, a love for the land and the farming way of life that keep them going.
To everyone who says they are “just” small farmers, you have a bigger impact than you realize. The economy of many of our towns depends on farms of all sizes. Even the loss of a single operation will have a trickle-down effect on a community. Small farmers are a vital part of the largest industry in the Ozarks, and it takes every cog in the wheel to keep things moving.
So if you ever receive a phone call from Ozarks Farm & Neighbor about the possibility of doing a story on your farming operation, don’t sell yourself or your enterprise short. You do have a story to tell.
Julie Turner-Crawford is a native of Dallas County, Mo., where she grew up on her family’s farm. She is a graduate of Missouri State University. To contact Julie, call 1-866-532-1960 or by email at [email protected].