A recent editorial in the New York Times by Nicholas Kristof provides yet another example of the misinformation hoisted on the American public about family farms. Our food “has no soul” he claims because “small, sustainable family farmers” have been driven out by industrial agriculture.
Well, first, his concept of sustainable is pretty narrow. He freely admits that his fond memories of his own small family farm was not necessarily a model of an efficient operation. Well, duh. Economic viability HAS to be a part of sustainability. Otherwise, “sustainability” will not last very long. I wonder if Mr. Kristof has bothered to stop and ask the question of why HE is not on his small family farm?
But, perhaps more importantly, Mr. Kristof has published a piece with no relationship to actual facts. Consider the following data from the 2007 Census of Agriculture:
Part of the misconception about farm types was created by labeling used by USDA. In the past, USDA would classify farms by legal structure. So, corporate farms appeared to be dominating farming. But, these “corporations” were nothing more than small families using “Sub-chapter S” corporate structure for tax purposes. USDA corrected this using the designations above. As we can see, Mr. Kristof’s romantic designations of a small family farm make up the preponderance of farm numbers, but only a small fraction of the total value of agricultural production. Kinda kills the buzz on the “industrial agriculture driving out small family farms” high. So his comment about “inefficient” is probably right on.
There is much to be proud of in U.S. agriculture, and many things that need work to improve the long-term viability of the industry for the nation. But, attempting to vilify American family farmers does not appear to be a particularly good way to get your message across, especially when your facts are not even close to reality.