Although there is a certain amount of truth in
your editorial assertion that the current farm crisis, as in
California, will weed out unprofitable, inefficient operations,
there is something else to consider in this "survival-of-the-fittest" theory.
Unlike most corporate farms, each often with a
large, non-agricultural parent company to fall back on, most
small family farms have little savings to tide them over for
such extended periods of unprofitability as we have been
experiencing in the United States for some years now. Added to
the toll in human suffering (as brought to public attention in
many news reports and in popular, highly acclaimed dramatic
productions), there is a basic economic problem with driving
many families off farms, which, then, are usually taken over by
corporate landholders, such as banks.
Many highly respected studies have shown over
the years that although larger farms have higher total
production, smaller farms are generally more efficient, in terms
of the yields returned per energy and other capital invested.
This higher productivity results in lower food prices in the
long run, regardless of short-term price-undercutting on
selected items in selected regions by large food producers.
The reasons given for this phenomenon include
such things as more intensive, personal attention devoted to the
land and crops by an owner-operator, who lives on the farm and
whose time and skills he or she does not need to purchase
elsewhere. This situation is analogous to the higher
productivity on small, personal plots of land tended in the
Soviet Union by the same people who farm the much less
productive collective farms, for the state.
In short, our current agricultural economic
crisis will indeed weed out many unproductive farmers; but
unfortunately, it will also take a relatively higher toll on
small family farmers than on large corporate farmers, simply
because of the size of the capital reserves each has on hand.
Not only does this increase human suffering rurally; but also,
agricultural efficiency, vital to all of us who buy food,
In our modern economy, there should be a balance
between both small and large businesses, in agriculture and
other sectors; so the disproportionate bankrupting of small,
often creative and efficient operations is not only unfair to
them but also unwise for us consumers. As Ben Franklin
admonished, "We must indeed all hang together, or assuredly we
shall all hang separately!"