Apples and Oranges

As we try to figure out how to turn a profit off of a few acres of organic vegetables, a flock of chickens, a herd of goats and a few pigs (in other words, off a traditional diversified farm), when I read about the giant commodity grain farms of the Midwest I realize how completely different we are from them, in so many ways.

According to a recent article in Progressive Farmer about small grain farms, most farms were under 600 acres in the early 1980s.  Today most cropland is on farms with at least 1,100 acres and “many farms are five or 10 times that size.  The midpoint for Midwest grain farms more than doubled since the 1980s.”

GMOs have played a big role in the farm expansion/consolidation.

“Technology accounts for some of the surge in grain-farm size, especially with the adoption of herbicide-resistant seeds since 1995, USDA explains.  It notes that labor requirements on a 1,500-acre Midwest farm using conventional seed runs about 4,421 man-hours per year, while someone with herbicide-tolerant seed introduced since 1995 needs only 3,160 hours to produce the same crop.  With growing weed resistance to Roundup technologies, however, that pattern may slow in the future.”

So how are these giant chemical-based GMO grain farms doing financially?

According to the article the profits per acre on corn average about $347 and on soybeans about $287.

With farms averaging over 1100 acres and with many being 5-10,000 acres, that means the average size farm is turning a profit of over $300,000 and the big boys are raking in millions per year.

I can only shake my head in amazement.


14 comments on “Apples and Oranges

  1. El Guapo says:

    Is there any sort of acceptable compromise between Organic and Herbicide Resistant seeds?


    • Bill says:

      The only GMO seeds available are corn, soybeans, sugar beets, cotton and canola. to the best of my knowledge. All those can be grown from non-GMO seeds. Of course they don’t have to be grown organically, but if the herbicide resistance isn’t build into the seed then you generally can’t apply herbicide after the crop emerges so cultivation is necessary, which means wider rows and lower yields.


  2. Jeff says:

    Don’t you love the sound of the cash register ringing up sales? Too bad it isn’t your cash register. Ah, the wonders of capitalism.


    • Bill says:

      We’re trying to be part of a movement that will enable economic sustainability for the farmers and an alternative to industrial agriculture for the consumers. We’re just interested in making a living, not a killing.


  3. nebraskadave says:

    Bill, I live in the heart of big farm country. Nebraska and Iowa are the homes of the massively big farms. Many are now owned by big corporations. The small farmer mentality is dwindling. Since farm land has such a high value reaching at times toward the $5,000 per acre, younger family members would just rather sell their inheritance and take the millions to live a life of ease instead of working hard trying to keep things together on the family farm.

    The only crop rotation with farmers in my state is between corn and beans. Dad was a small time farmer and never applied commercial fertilizer. His fertilizer was always barnyard style manure and green manure grown from the fall planting of clover. It was a great way to learn about real farming that has stayed with me throughout my life time.

    Have a great post Christmas/pre New Year week and many blessings with the organic growing.


    • Bill says:

      Dave, I’ve been following the amazing run-up in cropland prices in the Midwest. It’s definitely a boom time for Big Ag. You may remember Earl Butz’ famous line to farmers, “Get big or get out.” It seems that folks are taking his advice.

      We still fertilize the way your Dad did. It’s hard to do that though when you’re growing thousands of acres of corn/soybeans.


  4. DM says:

    We are on the road this week (new york city actually), and also live in the heart of the corn belt. I am enjoying this visit to the city Bill, but long to be back home, enjoying our little corner of the globe. farm prices in our area of the state are in the 9 to 11 thousand dollar per acre range. It is crazy. We grew up on a 120 acre family farm, little did i realize just how unique and increasing rare even my experience was. Being a way for a week from home makes me appreciate blogs like yours even more,..they are little windows into another world…a precious and increasingly rare way of life. DM


    • Bill says:

      Thanks DM. Hope you’re enjoying your time in the city.

      Like you, I think small diversified family farms are worth preserving. We need to make sure that they can be a livelihood not just a lifestyle. That’s the hard part. With farm prices that high only the industrial farms can afford them. So the consolidation continues.


  5. Technology moves quickly while ethics ramble ever so slowly.


    • Bill says:

      I find the fact that were no GMO crops before 1996, and now, less than 20 years later, almost all the corn and soy (and therefore almost all of our processed foods and industrial meat) are GMO, to be astonishing.


  6. Steve Carlic says:

    I doubt the profit and loss calculation accounts for the true cost of exploiting the soil, the depreciation caused by pushing production beyond what the land can support in a sustainable way. I suspect there is no profit at all.


  7. df says:

    I think what strikes me most about modern large scale farming, is that the people doing it are not in a position to feed themselves any more than the people who buy their output. Unless you have a diverse range of crops and the ability to produce and store a range of foodstuffs all the year round, you haven’t got a hope in hell when the big machine stops working, either temporarily or worse. Large scale farmers are not really ‘farmers’ in the true sense of the word and most wouldn’t know how to tend a garden I suspect.


    • Bill says:

      I saw a documentary recently about a town in Iowa that made that point. They were surrounded by farms and some of the richest soil in the world, yet they imported all their food and bought it at places like Walmart. I agree that this kind of thing isn’t “farming.” It’s “agribusiness.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s