When it comes to farming, most people picture the family farm as the source of their food, but the supermarkets are now buying from big agriculture meaning the smaller farms need to find new revenue sources. Elena LaQuatra takes a look and tries to answer, ‘Where Have All the Farmers Gone?’
An in-depth study and analysis of Pennsylvania’s agriculture reveal major weaknesses facing the industry. For starters, an aging workforce.
Tadd Burch and his brother, Tim, are sixth generation farmers owning and operating Burch Family Farms. Tadd remembers his days as a kid, growing up on their North East property. “My dad would get you up early in the morning, even on Saturdays, and say, ‘hey, no cartoon watching, let’s go, we got things to do!'”
Making money today, much more difficult for the family, forcing them to branch out and diversify. The Burches operate their own country market, a winery, a bakery, several satellite markets, a deer processing business, and sell wholesale to the Amish.
Selling wholesale to grocery stores like Giant Eagle, Wegman’s, and Tops no longer an adequate source of income.
Nick Mobilia, of Arrowhead Winery, says, “Over the years, the bigger chains come in, they get bigger, they buy another store, they buy another division. Now you’re not dealing with mom and dad anymore… I’m dealing with a broker for these big companies.”
Grocery stores are buying larger quantities for less money. Local farmers are no longer able to compete against bigger farms and greenhouses that can supply multiple semi-truck loads of orders. Local farmers are taking a hit. Tadd telling us, “Last fall, we didn’t sell one apple to any local grocery store.”
You may think the apples, for example, you’re picking up at your grocery store were grown locally… maybe in a neighboring state at the furthest. Take a minute to look closer… what you find… may surprise you.
“They can get a lot of that stuff shipped from overseas cheaper than buying it locally… [So it’s coming from… really anywhere?] Oh yeah.”
Nick says, “They’re probably coming from Mexico, they’re coming from China, they’re coming from Turkey, they’re coming… you know, any place… Germany, France.”
While making money continues to be a struggle for farmers, spending money to sustain their farms continues to skyrocket. President of Erie County Farm Bureau, Mark Muir, says, “John F Kennedy made the comment, ‘Farmers are the only ones that pay full retail on all their imports, but sell on the market at wholesale.'”
The cost of farming equipment, alone, adds up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Farmers must also have every aspect of their operation inspected often, making sure they’re following strict regulations. “So it just keeps putting a layer and layer of expenses on a farm that’s only going to be in operation like four months. And you’re getting to a point where you can’t just keep absorbing these costs. So, a lot of people are just getting out of it,” Nick tells us.
In addition to the aging farmers calling it quits, the millennial generation has little interest. Tadd saying, “Farmings in a bad situation right now, in my opinion.”
Tadd fears the family farm may not continue for a seventh generation. “Me and my brother may be it… I don’t want my kids doing something where they’ve got to work a lot of hours and not get anything back out of it… and struggle… I don’t want that for my kids.”
Though his kids love the farm, Tadd says they may not have the love of farming. The backbone to our country that’s seemingly getting weaker as the industry continues to change.
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