Small farmers can proudly boast big smile

No more apologies. If you have a small to moderate-sized farm, you can still be proud of what you have and what you do. To heck with those who try to make you feel inadequate.

The definition of “small” is open to interpretation. A recent story in a farm magazine explored the future of small farms. One of the “small” farmers interviewed was seeding 4,500 acres. Many would consider that a decent-sized operation.

“We only farm 2,000 acres,” said a colleague recently before stopping herself.

“Wait a minute. Why do I always say ‘only?’ We farm 2,000 acres and it’s all paid for and we’re happy to be making money with it.”

She went on to explain that some of her younger neighbours farm large acreages and were making overtures. Their message: Jean and Mike shouldn’t be messing around with such a small farm. They should just rent it out.

This had her feeling defensive, but she was working hard to adjust her attitude.

“Those young guys can wait be-cause we’re not ready to quit yet.”

I can relate. In my travels, lots of people ask me how much land I farm.

“Oh, it’s just small, about 1,500 acres,” and then I hasten to add, “but we try to do some crops that are a bit out of the norm to compensate for the limited acres.”

Why should I have to apologize or feel inadequate? It is what it is. With good crops, farms have been able to generate revenue of $300 to $600 per acre in recent years.

Do the math and it’s clear that smaller farms have been generating attractive gross returns.

Many smaller farms aren’t burdened with high mortgage payments and many, unlike their larger counterparts, aren’t paying rent on a significant portion of their acreage. Equipment of all ages and sizes is available to match the size of any operation.

Small farms may be missing some volume discounts on inputs and some price premiums on their production, but they might be able to make up some of that difference if their seeding and harvesting is done in a timely manner.

Good grain sector economics in recent years may have actually slowed farm consolidation. Smaller farmers who may have otherwise sold out are hanging on because there’s money to be made.

Many are actually interested in buying and/or renting more land. It isn’t just the large operators who have become expansion minded.

Some theorize that a downturn in the grain economy will produce a wave of further consolidation be-cause small operations will throw in the towel and be gobbled up.

Others theorize that large, rapidly expanding farms are often highly leveraged and may be the hardest hit in any downturn. These could be the ones forced out if times get tough.

Overall though, the trend is for farms to become larger. This has happened throughout history, in good times and in bad.

Economic conditions may change the rate of consolidation, but the trend will continue. Smaller farms won’t disappear, but they’ll account for an ever declining share of total production.

But don’t let it psyche you out. Is your farm making money? Can it still make money if the economics tighten up? Are you happy doing what you’re doing? Are you content with your work-life balance?

If so, to heck with what others think or say. No need to apologize for your hard work, happiness and profitability.

About the author


Stories from our other publications