In the 21st century, small farming appears to be as risky as it has ever been. While many farmers love the life they have and wouldn't want to do anything else, the dual challenges of global economics and changing weather patterns make commercial small farming a pursuit that is not for the faint of heart. Both vegetable farming and the raising of livestock are subject to the whims of nature and the competition of big business.
One of the biggest challenges to small farms come from big farms. Due to economies of scale, a 5,000-acre farm is able to charge less per pound for the millions of potatoes it produces every year than the small farm can for its thousands of the same product. Many government health and infrastructure regulations require investments that only large farms can afford, thereby adding another financial challenge to the small farmer. An example of this was the requirement of a certain size of bulk tanks in dairies, a regulation that put many small dairy farms out of business because they couldn't afford the equipment.
Drought and Floods
Farmers have always been subject to the whims of the weather. Too little rain and a crop fails too germinate, too much rain and it drowns. Either way, the farmer loses unless seasonal conditions occur within the window that allows a crop to grow. Irrigation has mediated the effect of drought to a certain extent, but irrigation can itself cause problems such as lowering of the water table and salinization of soils. In the face of changing weather patterns and climate change, farmers are facing more challenges than ever as they attempt to produce food without knowing what the weather has in store for them.
Agribusiness is completely dependent on petroleum. With the exception of minuscule farms that can be operated by hand or with the help of horses, this is as true for small farms as it is for large ones, because virtually all commercial farms use tractors and petroleum-derived fertilizers and pesticides. Thus, in addition to being beholden to the weather, farmers answer to the whims of the global petroleum economy. If petroleum prices spiral out of control, or if petroleum availability becomes unreliable--both of which are being predicted by some forecasters--small farmers will be facing very serious challenges to their ability to maintain food production and to support themselves.
- Photo Credit farm image by Richard McGuirk from Fotolia.com
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