Why we need 100,000 new farmers/ranchers
The why: People are hungry – they need food and they need jobs
- Globally, We need to double total food production by 2050 to meet the world’s needs – farmers and farm rangeland are needed to grow that food – in the world, hunger kills more people than aids, malaria, and tuberculosis combined.
- In the U.S., 49 million Americans live in food insecure households – meaning they don’t know where their next meal is coming from – New Mexico is dead last on that list. One in six Americans struggle with hunger. 36% of households defined as food insecure have at least one working adult, and only 10% of food insecure households are homeless.
- Rural counties are disproportionately high in food insecurity and hunger
- In New Mexico, only about 3% of food grown in state reaches the mouths of in-state consumers.
- Of the $2.5 billion received by New Mexican farmers each year, 80% is earned either from exports of dairy products and cattle or from sales of the grains to support these animals. Most of the remaining agricultural products in the state, such as pecans, onions, and chile, are exported as well.
- Food localization means New Mexicans, while continuing their food-export industries, would consume more of the raw foodstuffs grown or raised in the state.
Residents also would purchase more processed foods from local manufacturer, buy more of all kinds of food from local grocery stores, and eat out more selectively in local restaurants.
Why does that matter? It’s the ripple effect – and there are extensive studies- One simple example. New Mexicans spend $124 million on fresh vegetables, but well over 90% of all vegetables grown in the state are exported. Expanding the vegetable sector by 90% to meet local demand, while continuing to produce for export, would create 700 additional jobs.
I’m not here today to argue food localization vs. large, so called “industrialized” agriculture – although many people question the sustainability of that industrialized food system — pointing to:
- It consumes vast quantities of natural resources
- It is heavily dependent on fossil fuel to produce synthetic fertilizer and process package and transport food
- It consumes huge volumes of water
- It degrades soil
Many of my best friends are big ranchers and farmers, currently enjoying record farm/ranch income and one of the strongest agriculture markets in decades. The Big farming and ranching folks are happy right now — and they are nervous.
Talking to a big rancher just yesterday he feels the “bubble” – the money won’t last, the drought is driving people out business, mad cow, pink slime, tagging and and other regulations make it challenging – in addition to the cost of transport to feedlots — the challenges of a beef diet – it goes on and on.
That said — realistically — big production is not going away anytime soon. It may change and adapt – but it will be there as part of the agricultural landscape, in one form or another.
With the smaller and medium sized guys, however —- The question is one of sustainability, not just of the land or cattle – but of the people.
The average American farmer is 58 years old. The average cattleman is 61 years old.
And, oh, by the way —- according to Beef USA, 90% of all U.S. cow herds have less than 100 cows. So there is a declining population of people, with small herds, with growing challenges – and despite the current bubble — a disincentive to carry the ranch forward another generation, in the face of hunger and a growing demand for food.
That is why Secretary Vilsack says we need 100,000 new farmers and ranchers in the next 5 years.
We have a shrinking supply of production , that is farmers/ranchers – with a growing demand for output – that is, food.
The good news is there is a new generation coming on that wants to farm and ranch and they are exploring new paradigms – problem is they often can’t afford the land, and there are programs with land trusts, USDA and others to assist — and they desperately want training — not only in production but management to run a smaller, efficient, profitable healthy enterprise. And interestingly many are doing it. Many of them are women – 30% of the 3 million farms are operated by women – today, women are twice as likely to take over an existing enterprise or starting a new one than men.