Friday, July 15, 2016

Where have all the farmers gone?

Recently we posted an item about a conference in Wyoming seeking to address the increasingly high age of farmers and ranchers. Naturally, in this day and age, the conference seems to be focused on technology as the solution.

It isn't.

Land prices are the big problem.  Technology, oddly enough, is also a problem.  But land is the huge one, with prices driven up and up by various conspiring factors in our economy, improvements in transportation, the concentration of wealth, and the enormous increase in population over the decades.  I.e., in 1916 a person still needed a pretty substantial investment to get into agriculture, but it wasn't impossible and you could still homestead.  Now, you might be able to scrape and invest for the tools of the trade, but land is priced so high, there's no earthly way in much of the country you can actually make a living at it, if you have to buy land.  This is certainly the case for ranching anyhow.  You can't buy a ranch, if  you want to be a real rancher, and ever pay the land off or even make a living on it.

That's what agricultural conferences address.

Wringing hands over youth not entering agriculture won't solve any problems at all.  How can they, really?  Unless their family has land, and the family is already dedicated to staying in agriculture or at least not selling the land, their task is daunting and they have to accept never being able to own what they are working.

Not that the golden alternatives are all that great, they're just more obvious. Those "good" "town jobs" that are so often the alternative have plenty of their own problems.  In the ones where you actually own things, there are all sorts of problems associated with them, they're just less obvious and you have to really be a part of them to know what their downsides are.  Your dentist, doctor, lawyer, accountant, or whatever, isn't going to really tell you the bad sides of what  he's doing.  His incentive is completely in the opposite direction.

Not that it has to be this way. This actually can be addressed, we just won't do it.  Land prices for agricultural land could be depressed overnight by restricting the ownership of it to people who make a living from it.  That would change it, as most of your out of state executives that fly in to "their ranch" aren't going to walk out of their offices for ever to take up the life of a real agriculturalist.

The problem with that, however, is that doing this is deeply contrary to the American concept of "I can do anything I want" and "I can own anything I want".  Those values made a lot of sense, quite frankly, in the world of 1916 for the US. They're pretty obviously false in the world of 2016.

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