The New York Times recently ran an op-ed about a 378-year-old family farm calling it quits. Writer Verlyn Klinkenborg doesn't understand that its the wheels of production that have made this business model obsolete. He instead blames government subsidies:
The frustrating thing about his view is that he doesn't see agricultural subsidies as a problem, he just thinks they are misapplied.
"It is too simple to say, as the Tuttles have, that the recession killed a farm that had survived for nearly 400 years. What killed it was the economic structure of food production. Each year it has become harder for family farms to compete with industrial scale agriculture — heavily subsidized by the government — underselling them at every turn. In a system committed to the health of farms and their integration with local communities, the result would have been different."
Agricultural economists like Daniel Sumner disagree and think farm subsidies should go away altogether. When asked about the local, small-scale food production model Klinkenborg yearns for, Sumner said it would not be affordable and waste a lot of resources; adding:
"If wealthy consumers demand more local production they will get it. Rich folks in New York or San Francisco can hire personal gardeners to grow things for them in the backyard or on the roof tops as noted in recent NYT articles. But given the huge costs of such practices, that is unlikely to be a significant share of the food consumption for normal people."Family farms are not a good way to produce food today. Our technology level has advanced and created an industrial process that makes tons of food. Fear mongers want us to believe that is a bad thing, and make a lot of flawed arguments about health, environmental and economic problems that come with efficient food production. Exposing the nonsense behind those views has become the focus of this blog.
Klinkenborg wants protectionism for family farms. I must admit, however, I can relate because I really miss having pudding in metal cans.
When I was a kid I liked the little pull-tab and the clink of the spoon on the bottom of the can. Today, pudding comes in tiny plastic tubs and I can't find metal cans anywhere. It seems manufacturers found a cheaper way to store individual servings of pudding. I miss that aesthetics that come with the old way of selling pudding, and for me to get that is to pay more in a niche market, or as food Luddites like Klinkenborg want, force the taxpayers to make up the price difference so expensive metal cans have the same price tag for consumers.
But some of those tax payers don't care about pudding containers. Why should they have to pay for my niche preference? The truth is, they shouldn't, and tax payers shouldn't have to subsidize food production - large or small.
Family farms are now a niche market to satisfy an aesthetic preference, not a cheap and affordable way to produce food. Don't blame lobbyists, don't blame bureaucrats and don't blame illegitimate business practices. It's technology that killed them - the technology of large-scale production.