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Farm Aid News & Views May 1997

May 1997
Volume 5, No. 5


Most Americans think about the "farm crisis" as a period during 
the mid-1980s when thousands of farm families lost their farms 
because of low farm prices and overwhelming debt.  Farm Aid 
was founded in 1985 during a time of great public awareness 
about the plight of the family farmer.  For a time it was 
impossible to open a newspaper or turn on the TV news without 
facing images of farm auctions and foreclosure sales.  

Although no longer on the front pages, the farm crisis has 
evolved into a chronic condition that continues to force 
thousands of farmers off their land every year.  In past issues of 
Farm Aid News and Views we have discussed some of the 
economic and political forces that are hurting family farmers at 
the benefit of large industrial agricultural operations.  From 
government policies that favor factory farms over family farms 
to increasing corporate concentration that squeezes family 
farmers out of the market, these forces present formidable 
obstacles to family farmers struggling to hold on to land that has 
been in their families for generations.  

Many farmers who were able to survive the 1980s have had to 
find work off the farm to supplement their meager farm 
incomes.  Others have entered into contracts with agribusiness 
corporations only to find that they have essentially become low-
wage employees on their own land.  In addition, farmers, whose 
average age is 58 years old, share a common anxiety about who 
will carry on their farm operations, as fewer and fewer young 
people are willing to endure the economic hardships that 
characterize farming in the 90s.  This edition of Farm Aid News 
and Views will provide our readers with a few facts and figures 
that illustrate the extent to which the farm crisis is alive and 
well in rural America.


* Since 1985, more than 250,000 farmers have lost their farms.  
Every week 500 farms go out of business.
"Farm Numbers and Land in Farms" July 1994, USDA National 
Agricultural Statistics Service.

* From 1969 to 1992, the number of large farms increased six fold 
while the number of small farms dropped by 40 percent. 
U.S. Bureau of the Census Agricultural Brief, July 1996.

* According to USDA, the number of farmers under the age of 35 
fell from 217,000 in 1974 to 115,000 in 1987.  Currently, only 11 
percent of farmers are under the age of 35.
"Farm Finance: Number of New Farmers Is Declining," GAO, 
May 1993.

* For every farmer under the age 35, there are two farmers over 
the age of 65.
USDA Economic Research Service, 1995.

* In 1920, the United States had over 925,000 black-operated 
farms. Today, there are only 18,000.  The current rate of 
agricultural loss by black farmers is two and one half times that 
of other Americans.
U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, The Decline of Black Farming 
in America 1-3 (Feb. 1982) and Bureau of the Census, 1992 
Census of Agriculture.  


* In 1995 farmers earned an average of only $5,000 per year from 
their farming operations.
USDA Economic Research Service, Agricultural Outlook, 
January/ February 1996, p. 45.

* Two-thirds of farmers work jobs off the farm just to make ends 
USDA Economic Research Service.

* Farmers are twice as likely to live in poverty as members of the 
general population.
USDA Economic Research Service, as cited in Clearinghouse 
Review, "Family Farmers in Poverty," Stephen Carpenter and 
Randi Roth, April 1996.

* The rural poverty rate has ranged between 15-19 percent since 
1970, compared to a range of 13-15 percent during the same time 
period in urban areas.
U.S. Census Bureau.


* 90 percent of small farms are owned and operated by families.  
Large farms are six times more likely than small farms to operate 
as corporations.
U.S. Bureau of the Census Agricultural Brief, July 1996.

* Four meatpacking companies control an estimated 87 percent 
of cattle slaughter.
Cattle Buyer's Weekly, 4/95 cited in "Concentration of 
Agricultural Markets," William Heffernan et al, 1996.

* Four companies control 85 percent of the cereal market.
Prudential Securities as cited by A.V. Krebs, "U.S. Corporate 
Agriculture Facts," February 1995.

* Four companies control 45 percent of the poultry industry.
Feedstuffs, Annual Reference Issues (1996).

* The farmer's share of the food dollar has slipped from 37 cents 
in 1980 to only 21 cents in 1994. 
USDA Agriculture Fact Book 1994, Office of Communications,  
pp. 8-10.

* Since 1980, the U.S. has lost more than two-thirds of its hog 
farms-virtually all of them family-sized farms with 500 or fewer 
"Pork Production 2000:  Fewer farms doing more," Feedstuffs, 

* The number of hog producers has declined 24 percent since 
1994.  Two percent of producers now account for 37 percent of all 
hog production.
USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, "Hogs and Pigs," 
December 1996 and USDA Economic Research Service 
Agricultural Outlook, March 1995.


Dear Farm Aid News and Views Reader:

During the past year, Farm Aid News and Views has focused on 
important issues such as the 1996 Farm Bill, corporate 
concentration, rural development, direct marketing, and 
sustainable agriculture.  Farm Aid would like to know what 
topics remain critical to your constituents and which issues you 
would like to learn more about.  To facilitate this process, please 
fill out and return the following survey to:  Farm Aid News 
Survey, 334 Broadway #1, Cambridge, MA 02139.  Fax 617-354-
6992.  E-mail Farmaid1@aol.com.

1.  What do you like most about Farm Aid News and Views?

2.  What features would you like to see added or changed in the 

3.  Do you find the resources and events listed in Farm Aid 
News and Views useful?

4.  What issues are most important to your current and 
upcoming work?

a.  Farm policy						
b.  Direct marketing/cooperatives			
c.   Biotechnology						
d.  Sustainable agriculture					
e.  Food safety						
f.   Corporate concentration/factory farming
g.  Rural economic development
h.  Minority farmers
i.   Women farmers
j.   Young/beginning farmers
k.  International agriculture		
l.   Organic farming
m.  Other:__________________________
5.  Can Farm Aid contact you in the future when conducting 
informational interviews related to the above topics?  If yes, who 
should we contact?




E-mail: __________________________________


Thank you for your help -- we look forward to bringing you 
informative and interesting updates in 1997.  As always, 
continue sending your comments throughout the year -- we rely 
on your input to deliver the most useful and timely news.

Harry Smith
Farm Aid News and Views editor

Farm Aid News & Views is produced by Farm Aid.  Editor 
Harry Smith.  We encourage the 
reproduction of Farm Aid News & Views.  Comments and 
suggestions welcome. Farm Aid (617) 354-2922.  Fax: 
(617) 354-6992. Email: Farmaid1@aol.com.