In observation of the International Year of the Family Farmer, the following blog was written for the National Farmers Union by 25x’25 executive committee co-chairs Read Smith, a Washington state grain grower and former president of the National Association of Conservation Districts, and Bart Ruth, a Nebraska farmer and former president of the American Soybean Association.
While the United Nation’s declaration of 2014 as the International Year of the Family Farmer cites the worthy role of family farms in alleviating hunger and poverty, providing food security, protecting the environment and improving livelihoods, the 25x’25 Alliance can also attest to their value in the development of renewable energy and in enhancing our nation’s energy security.
The 25x’25 Alliance is a coalition of agriculture, livestock, forestry, energy, business, civic, labor and governmental groups. The alliance holds that by 2025, America’s farms, ranches and forestlands will meet at least 25 percent of our nation’s energy needs with renewable resources, including biofuels, biomass, wind energy, solar power, geothermal energy and hydropower, all while providing a safe, ample and affordable supply of food, feed and fiber.
We are lifelong farmers who have had the good fortune of sustaining our own family operations and seen the benefits that family farms bring to a community. We contribute to the financial strength of the community by obtaining credit from local banks and purchasing most of our inputs, including fertilizer and equipment, from local businesses. We sell most of our products through local or regional markets, keeping the money within the community.
Family farmers are more solidly engaged in local community activities. They are responsible stewards of the land who live on or near the land they farm and, therefore, work to preserve and protect now and for future generations not only the land and livestock they tend, but their surroundings as well.
They virtually guarantee the preservation of green space, helping ensure that their land is not turned into housing or commercial developments, or into an industrial site.
Family farms also have a competitive advantage by positioning themselves over the generations to better buy land, invest in larger and more modern equipment and facilities, and diversify their business opportunities.
As part of that diversity, family farms over the past decade have taken the lead in promoting and accelerating renewable energy, taking advantage of these opportunities to add new revenue streams, while boosting the local economy and, on a broader scale, improving our environment and enhance the nation’s energy security.
As founding members of 25x’25, we have seen family farmers move to the forefront in the adoption of new land management practices and the use of new seed technologies to produce record levels of biofuel feedstocks in increasingly efficient and environmentally sustainable ways.
Livestock operations run by families spearhead the implementation of anaerobic digesters that convert animal waste into a fuel that helps power their operations and, in many cases, feeds electricity into the local grid.
Family farmers have led the way in availing land for the siting of wind turbines and solar farms that offer cleaner power alternatives while earning money through leasing agreements for projects that have minimal impact on their crop or livestock operations.
Much has been made in some media circles over what some have characterized the “demise” of family farms. While farms are getting larger – USDA’s Economic Research Service says the midpoint acreage for U.S. cropland (at which farms are either larger or smaller) close to doubled since the early 1980s, from about 590 acres to just more than 1,100 – it should be understood that nearly 97 percent of all U.S. farms are family-owned. And they represent 87 percent of all agriculture value generated.
While advances in crop, pesticide and equipment technology have reduced labor needs and driven the increase in farm size that, in turn, drives up returns, the principles of family farming have remained constant on those operations. The commitment to community and to a sustainable way of producing food, feed, fiber and, more recently, fuel, is paramount.
It is that dedication that family farmers bring to their operations that results in the best of outcomes, including innovative ways of producing renewable energy that will help meet the 25x’25 goal and benefit all of society.