Agriculture Isn't All About The Money
I want to clear some things up and challenge readers' thinking regarding the concerns and comments about agriculture and raising livestock being nothing more than a money-making sector of the economy. I've been noting several comments regarding this in a few answers to questions on Yahoo! Answers, not to mention comments on Hubpages that have been directed at me and my hubs that I've written or others that concern similar content. I never exactly questioned the why's and wherefore's of these comments until tonight when the thought suddenly popped in my head out of the blue (which happens not all that uncommonly).
Why is it that people think and believe that farms and farming is merely a money-making venture, or that farmers (who I prefer to call producers) raise livestock like cattle just to make a profit off of them?? Also, why is there such negativity and bitterness surrounding the fact that producers growing crops and raising livestock do it to not feed themselves but to make money?? I don't get it, coming from a farming background myself I just can't get my head around the reason for people to carelessly throw that out there and expect everyone to take it as fact.
Producers in North America are focused on making money, not food but....
The problem is that it's really only partly fact. And what most don't realize, especially those who are generations removed from the farm, is that in most if not all agricultural enterprises, very little to no true profit is made. Yes the very thing that we producers end up with at the end when all is said and done is money in the pocket, because the farms we run are run as a business (except for the urbanites' hobby farms), but this money we get is gross profit or income, NOT net profit or just plain profit. To say that people farm or raise livestock just to make a profit is really an outright lie. It's also a show of ignorance and misunderstanding about finances because there is far more to it than what people might think.
When a producer calculates profit, he cannot ever determine that he is making money simply by the check he gets from the barley grain or cattle he sold. This often-yearly cheque that he gets is what gross profit or income is all about. Net profit is determined when all of his expenses that he has incurred from the farm's operations are subtracted to the income he received from what he sold. Income should never be confused with profit, because income is really the money that comes into a business after a product is sold, excluding expenses. Profit or Net Profit, on the other hand, is money that is left over after all expenses are deducted from gross profit. If no income is left over after all expenses are deducted, it is called Net Loss.
Expenses for the average farm are primarily fertilizer, fuel and feed. Fuel and fertilizer are the biggest costs to a farm, such expenses often exceeding $5,000 per acre per year. Most farms in North America that are not hobby farms are over 100 acres in size. So, expenses in total would and could be well over $500,000 per year. It's not common for income in farms to exceed this amount. If it does, it's not by very much, just enough to break-even.
Despite these figures the fire-storm in the media and non-agricultural people alike still continues about producers "doing it for the money."
Farming in North America is indeed a business and thus a "money-making" venture. It is definitely not subsistence agriculture because the people who grow crops and raise livestock are not raising them to feed themselves and their families, but to feed others who cannot or will not grow crops or raise livestock to feed themselves. Thus instead it is known as "commercial" agriculture and consequently, a business just like any small businesses that do not focus on grain, milk, meat, wool, eggs, fruits and vegetables as the end product. So why does it seem like people think that agriculture should not be treated like a business and a money-making venture just like any other business?
And what other reasons are there that may be the cause for people to accuse those who farm to just "do it for the money"?
Answer: Misunderstanding could be part of the problem.
That has to be it. In Canada we have about 95% of the population who are so far removed from agriculture they have never seen a cow, horse, pig, chicken, goat, sheep, or donkey in real life before and have never had to experience the hard work that goes in to making a farm tick. It's these people that are easily mislead by extremists and the media who put blame on the few people who abuse and mistreat their animals, and are lead to assume that it happens all across the country. This is no different south of the border where 98% of the population are urbanites and/or have no farm experience whatsoever.
I have been taught by close family and friends that there are people out there to get you. And that doesn't limit those suburbanites who constantly worry about criminals sneaking into their home and stealing their jewelery, it's a big problem for farmers who have to deal with the constant bureaucratic, politically-correct, Disney-ized bullshit that comes from the media, animal rights extremist groups, environmental extremist groups, and the general population who get suckered in to this vortex of brainwashing, hypocritical misinformation and half-truths. No wonder it gets so confusing and overwhelming for those trying to sort the false truths from the REAL truths!
I do not wish to repeat myself about the level of misunderstanding that is created by these groups, as I have already written about that in several hubs entitled "The Vegan and Omnivore Debate." But as we all know, one can never say enough about it, nor can I pass up the chance to explain some things that have not been explained in the other hubs authored by yours truly, especially about money.
The thing many people don't understand is that farming has never been nor will ever be a non-for-profit, must-rely-on-donations kind of thing. Farming doesn't rely on having to warp and manipulate people by taking advantage of their emotions in order to open their pocket books like what PeTA and HSUS does in order for them to wreak more havoc on the very people who are relied on to make food for us. Farming relies on hard work, the weather, Mother Nature, and the fact that the sun will pop up on the horizon every morning or the clouds will dump enough rain to make the crops and pasture plants grow. It doesn't rely on brainwashing the general public into believing the web of lies and half-truths spun by them to get more money out of gullible people. As a matter of fact farming has really minded its own business and kept help bringing food to the table to millions of families until these lobby groups showed up.(Not saying it's a bad thing though, as I have to give credit to these lobby groups for pointing out the bad and helping improve the practices, management and care involved in producing crops and raising livestock!)
But you know what? Despite giving some credit to PeTA, HSUS, Sierra and a few other extremist groups out there, I would really love to know what these groups do with all that money they get from people who want to "support the cause." Where does it go? Does it just get pocketed, or does it get used up by operational expenses, or is it used up for something more sinister that these groups (or at least some of them) wish to never disclose? Hmmm....
I know one thing though: I certainly know what farmers and producers do with the paycheck they get at the end of every year.
Nothing is for Free
Now for those of you who are still chomping at the bit to challenge me further with this monetary issue, let me throw something out there for you to chew on, just to put things into perspective. If you had no outside job and could not rely on donations nor could set up a trust fund or donation package where you could rely on people to practically give you the money, how would you run a farm and take care of your animals? How would you be able to pay for veterinary bills, fuel for the tractor, fertilizer, supplemental feed in the form of loose mineral or salt blocks and/or feed grain for those animals that won't gain much on hay, feed like hay, repair bills on machinery, building new buildings, fences or corrals? Or what about paying taxes, personal expenses, electricity, water and heating bills? The answer is you would not be able to farm nor take care of your animals at all. You'd have the SPCA knocking at your door with a request to surrender your animals over to them because you don't have enough money to feed or water them and they're getting thinner by the day.
That money producers get after selling their crops, selling their cattle has to go back into the expenses that are generated by farm operations. Someone with half a brain can figure that out. Farmers cannot produce food for free because....ready for it? NOTHING IS FOR FREE. I mentioned above how much money that can be expected to come out of a producer's pockets just to raise some grain; similar thing applies to those who raise animals, whether it's on a ranch or in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations). It's pouring more salt in the wound when you get people assuming that their food, especially animal products like meat, milk and eggs, should be produced for free, or in other words the farmers and producers get nothing in return for producing and taking off and essentially selling the end product off their farms or ranches. I don't get that. Why would anybody be stupid and foolish enough to think up something like that?? Can't folks understand that anything that goes into a farming operation is NOT for free?? Feed, fuel, fertilizer, and a whole host of other expenses, really add up!! Those things are not for free, not in any way, shape or form! And yet people are so belligerent and hateful about the fact that a farmer makes a ton of money on their end product. It's bad enough that people are so frickin' negative about agriculture and farming, but to turn around and imply that food should be produced for free or for nothing in return just makes it worse.
And you know what, I think farmers have the most thankless job in the world. You rarely get any random person stop by at a farm and thank them for keep their tummies full every day, if ever. Instead you're more likely to get some nosy SOB tell you that your dairy cows are starving to death out on fresh green pasture or wanting to give you heck for leaving a "dead" horse or cow out on the "field" (which is actually just sleeping away in the sun.) Or even worse, some new cityslicker wannabe-country-bum neighbor threatening to sue you because of the smell and noise that's coming from your farm and fields surrounding their little acreage. And you think that farming can survive without getting anything in return--even monetarily? Not a chance. Sometimes I like to tell people who get too carried away with their little rants about agriculture something to the effect of: "If you hate agriculture that much, why do you even eat? Why do you even bother putting food in your mouth if you're going to be that spiteful to those people who worked so hard to put food on YOUR plate?" or, "Why don't you start producing your own food if you think you can do it better than the farmers that have done it for a millenia?" Really, it's true: Farmers don't get much thanks, if at all, so the only "thanks" they can really get is the yearly income they receive when they sell the grain, livestock, eggs or milk they've worked so hard to produce. And where does all that income go? Right back into the farm and its operations, of course!!
You know it's really funny how people can be so prejudiced, belligerent and convoluted about this very topic, and yet these same people that have jobs and make a lot of money never get to see their money getting put into things to help produce food. Instead they spend it on vehicles and RVs, huge houses, house parties, expensive decorations and furniture and many other things that don't give a dime right back at the end of the year. Instead they put more of their money into things that take more of their money away. And then you get the other end of the spectrum where you get people who rely on welfare cheques from the government because they can't move their lazy asses to work and earn money for themselves!! How hypocritical!! And these people, I find it amazing that they are able to sit there and bash farmers with their mouths full of the very food that those farmers busted their asses and saved every penny--never spending any of it on the expensive junk that this person with a high-paying office job was able to get, nor even relying on the monthly welfare cheque to sustain them--to produce the food that gets put on that person's plate. What a shame. And these people expect farmers to produce food without making a "huge profit" at the end of every year?! Boy I would LOVE to have one of these folks try to produce food or raise livestock (and raise them more humanely than what they see the average farm do) without spending a single penny!!
Agriculture....it's a Way of Life
Have you ever wondered why only 2% of the population in the US and 5% of the population in Canada are directly involved in agriculture? It's because it's something that can't be made easily like it can in an air-conditioned office, and it's something that most people don't like: little profit and hard work, respectively. Most people choose to live in the cities and have an "easy-paying job" because they would rather have it easy than have to spend a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get something that accounts for 10% satisfaction in the end. Yes, my friends, agriculture and farming is hard work, it is the ultimate definition of hard work, just like any other primary-industry job is. On a farm, especially one with livestock, you are working 7 days a week 365 days a year, with no holiday pay, no benefits, and definitely no chance for a holiday-getaway.
Is an office, white-collar job considered a way-of-life as a career? I know most of you would answer no; most who work as a white-collar worker do it for the money. I wouldn't doubt that even most blue-collar workers who don't take their job with a passion do it just to gain a bit of income and because they don't like being stuck in an office all day. But of course you get those blue-collared workers who love their job and do it because they wouldn't have it any other way, regardless of the pay. But are those blue-collared jobs considered a way of life in the same way that farming is? My biased and opinionated answer is no.
Why, you may ask? Basically it's this: no other career or job involves working with the land and the environment in such a way that agriculture does. Forestry involves mainly cutting down timber to be made into wood products. Mining and quarrying involve taking minerals, rocks and stones out of the earth. Silviculture is merely planting trees and watching them grow. Agriculture, on the other hand, is seeding, growing and harvesting grains, caring for and raising livestock in such a way that you help with bringing newborns into the world, making sure they are healthy as they grow and watching them grow into big, strong animals, and feeding them and treating them if they get ill. You quite literally get to work along side Mother Nature every day, helping do what she does best in the wild, doing it because you have a compassion for seeing things grow and watching the life cycle play itself out right before your very eyes. Now tell me: how can that not get into your blood?
I know I may be romanticizing things a bit and I apologize for doing so, but my point in all of this is that agriculture is more than a sector of the economy, it's a way of life for those few people who are lucky enough to experience it. You get a different perspective of the world when you're sitting up high in a tractor or on a horse, and you get to be a part of what makes the natural, un-urbanized part of the world tick.
So what really makes agriculture a way of life? It's the passion, the 10% satisfaction in the end after having to go through the 90% hard work, the risks and rewards, the gamble and payoffs, the mistakes you make and how you learn the hard way from them. It's Nature, the ability to own and raise animals that are otherwise illegal to have in most cities and towns, the pride you feel when you get to where you want to go, the hardships you experience that almost brings you to your knees, and the heartache you feel when you lose something you've worked so hard to gain. It's a life less, really, that teaches you a lot about patience, stubbornness, humbleness, peace, death, hard work, how life's never easy, how the animals we raise perceive us and see the world, if we're lucky enough and wise enough to see it. I could go on, really, as the list is endless. It can be so hard to fully describe to the average person on the street who have never been directly involved in agriculture how it isn't just about the money and how it's a way of life. I guess that should be left up to us producers to explain that to folks to the best of our ability.
Money is important for everyone, regardless of their career, background, ethnicity, religion, race or gender. So there's really no reason why people must think that agriculture should not be any different. Producers have to spend money to make money; they'd don't make money to spend it.
Pictures speak a thousand words as far as "way of life" is concerned:
A Final Word
Most people in North America take buying things for granted so much that they often lose sight of how businesses like farms are run and why things must be "done for the money." People can be so cruel and yet so gullible it's sad and frustrating at the same time. It's always due to misinformation, propaganda from extremist groups dictating how we should run our lives or what we should put in our mouths, half-truths, and the media displaying things--such as inhumane treatment of animals like dairy cows--in such a way that makes people think it's a common thing when in most cases the opposite is true. These same people are able to spout out how farming is so cruel and inhumane and it should be this and should be that. And yet, when you put them in a real-life farming environment and get them to see how things are done and why they are done, they suddenly get their eyes opened up, hopefully enough that they wouldn't dare shoot off their mouth about how bad farming is ever again.
It's so easy to lay blame on something we've created when it's ourselves we need to be pointing at. We've created our own monster being civilization and urbanization that helps lose sight of what the real world is all about, where our food really comes from and how it gets to our plate. There is so much misunderstanding about the fact that farmers can't produce food for free because nothing is for free. It's time to put a halt to this misunderstanding and get people to wake up and really start to see what agriculture is really about. That can start by getting people, like you my readers, to make an effort to thank a farmer for producing the food your are able to eat, because without them, without those people that have the most selfless job in the world, we wouldn't exist on such a grand scale as we do today.