An American Farmer’s Struggle
In America’s heartland, farmers labor thousands of hours through blazing summer days to feed, clothe and provide for millions of people across the nation. However, beginning and experienced farmers alike have expressed feelings of lost hope, frustration and anger due to a lack of profitability from government involvement in the agriculture industry and their exit from foreign trade.
By and large, farmers, no matter their age or experience, struggle to make a living in today’s national climate. According to Dale Fankhauser, 65, it wasn’t always that way. Fankhauser, who has farmed for almost his entire life, said farming when he was out of high school afforded him a much better living than it does today.
“When I graduated high school I thought, by god, there’s no better living than to be out here, to be your own boss, to do what you love to do,” Fankhauser said. “Now it’s totally different. I wouldn’t blame any kid for giving up. There’s better ways of making a living than this.”
Even as an already established farmer, Fankhauser said he still struggles to make ends meet because of the high cost of capital in the form of seeds, equipment and livestock.
“Everything we buy is so high and everything we sell is so cheap,” Fankhauser said. “Everything is below the price of production. A farmer can’t make a living on that!”
Another problem with farming today, according to Fankhauser, is the fluidity of prices, which makes future projections of expenses and profits almost impossible for farmers to calculate.
“We’ve got to go beg people to ask, ‘what will you give me for what I’ve got?’,” Fankhauser said. “Everybody else says, ‘this is what it is — pay it or leave it’ — and that’s not fair. We work hard for what we do.”
Prices of crops have been known to drop by 50 per cent within one year, according to local farmer and chairman for the National Sorghum Producers (NSP), Don Bloss. According to Bloss, the NSP helps to inform agricultural legislation in the United States.
Bloss also said that with the recent trade war with China which has resulted in tariffs on American produce, prices have dropped a further 25 per cent past the normal 50 per cent, resulting in a massive budget cut for national agriculture.
Eric Crook, a Humboldt dairy farmer, said these drops in prices have also affected the dairy industry, stating these fluctuations in supply and demand place a heavy burden on his family business.
“We’re only breaking even right now,” Crook said. “Dairy is our main product, and if we can’t make a profit, we have nothing.”
All of these facets of farming serve as major obstacles for people wanting to become farmers today. Trent Phillips, a Humboldt man who grew up in a farming family, said that beginning farmers whose families do not own farms face more obstacles as opposed to older, more experienced farmers when trying to ‘make it’ as farmers today.
“I’ve been around agriculture my whole life so I’ve always had an idea of how things worked,” Phillips said. “But when people get out into the real world and start pursuing farming on their own, there’s an entirely new learning curve in finding out how the business operates.”
Phillips said succeeding as a young farmer today is highly unlikely because of the current climate in the agriculture industry, and those who do not have established capital are the most likely to fail.
“It’s about impossible for anybody that doesn’t come from a family farm to start farming on their own without some sort of support,” Phillips said.
According to Phillips, it is this support that many beginning farmers need in order to make other ends, like capital and land, meet, and since beginners have not established a network to the degree family farmers have, odds are stacked against them.
“Family connections are a big thing in farming,” Phillips said. “The financial support they give is huge because they give you opportunities to work within the operation for a wage which you can use to put back into the operation.”
It is because of this lack of support and means of productivity that Phillips said young farmers have to be more aggressive in their approach to farming.
“We young guys have to be one hundred percent more aggressive in wanting to grow the operation and ensuring there is a tomorrow,” Phillips said. “A more established kind of guy is a lot less likely to take those kinds of risks.”
A majority of farmers in the midwest were proponents of Donald Trump, who championed farmers multiple times in different speeches. However, Dale Fankhauser does not think Trump has lived up to his promise of supporting farmers and their families.
“When the man [Trump] was running, I thought he would be the man to make things right, but now I’m starting to doubt it,” Fankhauser said.