On his blog Applied Mythology, Steve Savage has a nice post on farmers in the US and Canada, with graphs showing how their numbers have dwindled and how efficient they are. Then he continues:
Whether the farmer I visited took care of several hundred or even several thousand acres of land, the “office” in which I met them for an interview was either at the kitchen table or sometimes a desk tucked in the back corner of the machine shed. These farmers reflect the objective reality that 96% of American and 97% of Canadian farms are still family owned and operated. If they are incorporated it is only for the purposes of estate planning. I’ve also always found farmers to be extremely pleasant people with the same basic values as the rest of society, particularly when it comes to stewardship of the environment. What they do for a living entails far more economic uncertainty than most of us could handle and a workload well beyond the norm. However, almost inexplicably, these farmers tend to have a high level of job satisfaction and remain in the business more based on life-style values than economic returns. It is a sort of cruel irony that the tremendous efficiency of the tiny, remaining farming population leads to the believability of false narrative like “big Ag.”
This leaves me with two questions.
1) Why is it that farming, which as Savage shows is innovative, modern, and forward-looking, is still overwhelmingly a family business? Is there any other highly efficient sector of the modern economy of which this is true?
2) Why is it so important to so many that farming be a family business? Leaving aside those who distrust all corporations, most people today are happy to have their smart phones, their cars, their clothing, their entertainment, and their groceries produced by corporations. Why not their farm produce?
Is it a lingering Jeffersonian belief that a republic is best made up of yeoman farmers? That was perhaps a plausible political program in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when yeoman farmers made up much of the population. It hardly makes such sense today.
BTW, I am not arguing against family farms. I was raised on one and have great affection for them. But I am genuinely puzzled.