Farmers are Earning Less for Their Efforts

Food prices are going down and farmers are getting less and less of the profits from their efforts. That’s the story in a piece that appeared in Brownfield Ag News yesterday.

[American Farm Bureau Federation] says Americans today spend just under 10 percent of their disposable annual income for food, the lowest average of any country in the world. Meanwhile, the farmer’s share of that food dollar continues to decline from roughly 33 percent in the mid-1970’s to 19 percent today. In other words, of the $42.90 spent on the Market Basket items, the farmer gets $8.15.

Considering the source, the AFBF, it’s even more interesting. While farmers continue to struggle with increasing costs and lower returns, the very organization that supposedly speaks for them continues to ally itself with organizations that do more and more to reduce farmer’s independence.

Founded in 1919 by farmers, the organization’s original purpose was to “to make the business of farming more profitable, and the community a better place to live.” From the outside, it’s hard to believe that’s the organization’s focus anymore. Entrenched with companies such as Monsanto and pursuing political policies that do more to benefit corporate interests, Farm Bureau policies do more to increase the distance between farm and fork, thereby ensuring farmers receive less and less of the profits.

“Again this quarter and compared to one year ago, Farm Bureau volunteer shoppers found that the foods that declined the most in average retail price are among the least-processed items in our marketbasket,” Farm Bureau economist Stefphanie Gambrell said in a release from the organization.

That’s a highly suspicious statement, although not hard to believe. Given that fewer parties are involved in the production, distribution, and sales of less-processed foods, and given the increase in fuel prices and production costs, it makes sense that the least processed foods cost less. What the Farm Bureau doesn’t comment on is from which foods farmers’ profits derive. The AFBF also notes that the decline in farmers’ earnings really began in the mid-1970s, a time when fuel costs began to rise dramatically. Even more notable is the increase in Americans’ appetites for heavily processed convenience foods, a trend that returns few earnings to the people who produce the raw ingredients and more and more to those who take the food farther and farther from its origins.

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