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Farming By The Numbers

October 25, 2010

Until there’s a food recall (which often is at the processing level) many take food for granted. There’s occasional news stories about “factory farms” or “industrial agriculture” but there’s more to farming than numbers.

Remember the part in the movie Erin Brokovich where she asks what number you want then rattles off a list of statistics? Farming could do the same thing. But does it make a difference? Does it really make a difference?

In the book “Inquiries Into the Nature of Slow Money” there’s a point of “in 1980, the biggest poultry processing plants in the United States handled 16 million birds a year. Today, according to one industry observer “you need 1.25 million birds a week just to break even.”

$3trillion circulates through currency markets every day.

In 1950 tere were 25million farmers in the US. Today there’s less than a tenth of that. It’s said 163,000 “mega-farms” produce 60% of the nation’s food.

98% of farms are family farms.

This is said to be a bad thing – large farms but the fact is it pales in comparison to the numbers handling money. Recently Capital One – a card we have in case of emergencies – unapologetically refused payment on a card even though there was funds available. Trying to fix the issue – an expired card – creates a level of frustration and hassle that customer service is surely a joke. There is no service.

The bigger the company the more this is true. Many stores there are employees more interested in talking to each other than in helping customers. A recent trip to Tractor Supply I found an open back door near the women’s restroom. No alarm despite signs of “do not open door alarm will sound” but several inches of blue sky were seen on the other side of the door. I reported it to the cashier – “that can’t be”. I assured her it could be and the likelihood of goods walking out said open door was very high. She finished checking out my items and without notifying anyone went to the next one.

These are the large corporations people entrust with their investments. These are the shining examples of customer care that is really “give us your money and don’t bother us.” Is that then “factory investing”?

Many people say they want to deal with smaller businesses. They say they want money to stay closer to home. They say they want to spend and invest money where it helps small business – but in action don’t. Equally when buying groceries it comes down to cost alone in most choices. There’s a box of pasta for $2 and another for $3 which goes in the cart? There’s no consideration for how it was made, for the employees of the company or who grew it.

Being competitive from a small standpoint means doing better but even that isn’t enough. It’s considered 2.75 is the high end of return on a CD investment. Yet using that same money to yield a 4% return is considered not high enough. 6% not high enough to sway the decision.

There’s hundreds of decisions made every day. There’s headlines and being bombarded with information that really doesn’t affect you. Really – truly honestly does it affect you what Lady Gaga wears? Does it affect you what the latest celebrity news item is? Why does it matter more what Oprah or Bill Clinton or whomever else catches the headline eats is more important than what you eat?

Farming isn’t just about numbers. Here’s a few more numbers to ponder:

According to the Farmer’s Almanac in 2009 there was a 19% increase in new hobby farms and edible urban gardens and 45% increase in households that canned homegrown/organic produce.

49.1 million people in the USA live in food insecure households. In 2008 1 in 6 went hungry in America. If you’re not one of those people you don’t think much about it.

17% is the amount of landfill space taken to dispose of food scraps. More than 29 million tons per year. There’s much of that waste that could be put to positive use but corporate restaurants aren’t allowed to let that happen.

The double standard can be much bigger when looking at farm vs. non farm numbers. How many will step up to make a change? One? Ten? Twenty? None? We want to do business with small companies – but investments are left to large ones. It would seem any business person could see that doesn’t work.

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