The Wall Street Journal recently published a provocative piece with a title that perfectly summed up the fallout from collapsing incomes in farm country.
That article, “To Stay on the Land, American Farmers Add Extra Jobs,” revealed a rarely-discussed phenomenon of farmers being forced to take second and even third jobs as they try to keep their family farms afloat.
“Most U.S. farm households can’t solely rely on farm income, turning what was once a way of life into a part-time job,” the article explained, noting that 82% of U.S. farm household income is expected to come from off-farm work this year.
That’s because current commodity prices are depressed and haven’t kept up with inflation over the long haul. Compounding the problem are climbing input costs, the Journal wrote.
Chris Morrow was one of the farmers featured in the story.
This 32-year-old Missourian “rises four mornings a week at 4:30 a.m. and drives an hour to his outside job at Herzog Railroad Services Inc., in Falls City, Neb. He works a 10-hour shift inspecting inbound railcars in need of repairs.”
After work, and on the weekends, Morrow tends 350 acres of corn and beans and manages a small cattle herd. According to the article, Morrow cannot focus solely on his life’s calling because his farm netted just $14,000 last year.
Reading Morrow’s story, it is hard not to think back to another –albeit wholly inaccurate – appraisal of off-farm income by the Heritage Foundation.
“Few farms truly rely on farm income,” the agricultural critic explained in 2016, making additional jobs sound like a luxury rather than a necessity.
While promoting the elimination of U.S. farm policy, Heritage went onto explain:
Agriculture has evolved so that off-farm income plays a critical role for farmers…. This is an excellent example of a private risk management tool that farmers frequently utilize. The financial health of agricultural producers demonstrates that they have means to build the costs of risk management into their business models.
Put another way, farmers are already working two or three other jobs to help support their family farms so they don’t need a Farm Bill or crop insurance to help them manage the unique, high-stake risks of agriculture.
What a load of manure. “Get a second or third job” is not sound farm policy.
Of course, most farm critics don’t need to get another job to survive. Their deep-pocketed financers with anti-farm agendas take care of that.
But maybe they need to spend a few hours a week working on a farm. Then they’d see the financial pain rural America is facing right now and the real need for smart farm policies.