Q: If food prices rise, do farmers get more money?
A: The short answer is no. Commodity prices rise and fall every day, but farmers have nothing to do with setting food prices unless they are selling directly to consumers at their own farm, farmers market or as part of a group farmers market. On average, more than 80 percent of the cost of food at the grocery store is attributed to marketing and transportation costs, that of which a farmer gets nothing.
Q: What do farmers do during the winter?
A: During the winter crop farmers spend their time planning and preparing for the next year. They will service equipment, market stored grain and spend time with their families. One of their most important tasks during the winter is to decide their business strategies for the upcoming year. This includes going over data from the previous season to determine what seed, fertilizer and management practices to use the following year. They also participate in various farm group and commodity group meetings and education seminars. Livestock farmers spend the winter doing what they do every day, caring for their animals.
Q: How are pests controlled?
A: Modern seed genetics help stave off insect problems in crops. Farmers also use Integrated Pest Management techniques which involve inspecting crops and monitoring crops for damage, and using mechanical trapping devices, natural predators (e.g., insects that eat other insects), insect growth regulators, mating disruption substances (pheromones), and if necessary, chemical pesticides. The use of biological pesticides is an important component of IPM. In technical terms, Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is the coordinated use of pest and environmental information with available pest control methods to prevent unacceptable levels of pest damage by the most economical means and with the least possible hazard to people, property, and the environment. (
When applying pesticides farmers also have the precision technology to apply directly where needed and are also required to be certified before doing so. Remember, farm products cost the farmer money, so they are used in as small amounts as possible.
Q: What are some common conservation practices farmers employ?
A: The purpose of these practices is to slow or control water runoff, and to trap sediment and nutrients.
Buffers—There are many different types of buffers depending on the site. They usually involve incorporating vegetative plantings, which act as a filtration strip to slow water movement, and to trap nutrients and sediment.
Conservation tillage—A combination of soil and crop management techniques including managing crop residue and tillage practices in order to aid in soil and organic matter conservation in the field.
Crop rotation—A common practice of rotating certain crops planted in a particular field from one season to the next in order to break the cycle of weeds, insects, and diseases.
Filter strips—A type of buffer, grass is planted in strips between crops.
Grassed waterways—Strips of grass planted where water tends to move across a field, planted to prevent gully erosion.
Nutrient management—Managing nutrients entering (feed, fertilizer, legume nitrogen) and leaving (crops, milk, meat) the farm system so that crops needs are closely matched with proper inputs of manure and other nutrients as needed.
Riparian buffers—Planted along a stream bank, usually consisting of trees, shrubs, and grasses.
Conservation information can be found from the
Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Q: Why do some farmers get paid not to grow things?
A: Farm program payments are a public investment in the nation’s food, environmental and economic security.
While more than a decade ago, the structure of some farm programs may have paid farmers who weren’t producing, today’s farm payment programs are based upon production, revenue and sound principles. They provide support to farmers when the markets/prices crash, and even those payments are very limited.
Farmers are also compensated if they are willing to set aside productive agricultural land in favor of conservation practices that are for the benefit of all of society through improved soil, water and air quality. Such an example would include increasing grassland and natural growth around the perimeter of creeks and streams to prevent erosion and runoff from fields, and provide habitat for wildlife.
The majority of farm payments go to family farm operations, and provide a measure of stability in a business where uncontrollable weather, unfair competition and uncertain market prices create a high level of risk. Click on the following link to learn more about
Farm Programs connected to the Farm Bill?
Learn more about farm payment programs
Q: Is the number of small farms increasing or decreasing?
A: The modern farm is much different than those of our grandparents. A number of pressures, including record high production costs, food safety concerns and strict regulations are forcing the average-sized farmer to make choices about the size and scope of his or her operation. Some choose to grow larger, while others choose to downsize and find their place in a niche market.
The terms “small” and “large” in agriculture can be misleading because USDA definitions are based on sales, not size. A small acreage farm producing a high-value product may be defined by USDA as large, while a larger farm with lower sales may fit in USDA’s “small” category.
While the number and size of farms are in a state of constant fluctuation, there are advantages to both choices. Local food movements, consumer demand for niche products and specialization has opened the door for small-scale farmers. And farmers choosing to expand create jobs and income for local economies, tax revenue for support of local schools and infrastructure, and provide an opportunity for the next generation of farmers to get started in their career.
Q: Who oversees what farmers do?
A: Farmers have freedom to raise whatever crops and/or livestock they choose. But along with that freedom, comes great responsibilities.
A number of local, state and federal agencies and authorities place strict policies and regulations on farmers to ensure:
Here are some links to some of these authorities:
- The food they produce for American and global consumers is safe, reliable, abundant and affordable;
- The proper use and stewardship of natural resources so that future generations of humans and wildlife may continue to enjoy and prosper from the land;
- Agricultural worker protections and safety, and much more.
Q: If there is a short weather event, will food prices go up?
A: Among the many factors that influence food prices, weather is one. But the price of food also includes packaging, advertising, processing, labor, transportation and other costs. Corn, for example, makes up just a few cents of the final price of corn flakes. So if corn prices doubled, your cereal might go up by about nickel.
In addition, commodity prices are guided by global supply and demand. If a crop is grown over a wide geographical area, it is unlikely that local weather will disrupt overall production. On the other hand, a significant or extended weather event that limits the availability a crop would eventually be reflected in the cost of food. Typically, it is individual farmers who feel the greatest impact of adverse weather.
Q: Aren’t animal products bad for you?
A: Not according to the science-based dietary guidelines established by the
Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion which also develops the well-known
My Food Plate The center’s guidelines describe a healthy diet as the following:
- Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products;
- Includes lean meats, poultry, fish, beans, eggs, and nuts; and
- Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars.
Q: How are commodity prices set?
The price of agricultural commodities, such as corn and soybeans, are set in open market trading, where buyers and sellers come together at exchanges such as the
Chicago Board of Trade. This firm brokers large quantities of certain products through futures contracts.
Corn, for example, is sold through 5,000 bushel contracts. The contract stipulates that the corn will be delivered to the contract holder on a specified date in the future. Commodity buyers bid on these contracts to ensure they have a reliable supply of corn at a predictable price. Speculators may also bid in hopes that the value of the corn increases before the contract comes due. The buyers consider factors such as the weather, the number of acres planted and the anticipated demand for corn as they bid.
Local grain elevators use these bids as a guide to determine what price they will pay area farmers for their crop. Farmers can sell at the price offered by the elevator, or store the crop in hopes that the price will improve. Farmers can also sell their crop through a futures contract, which can be risky as they are often selling a crop which hasn’t yet been harvested. There is a complicated set of marketing tools farmers can use to manage this risk, but in the end, they do not get to set the price of their crop.
Q: Is it field corn or sweet corn or popcorn?
Most of the corn you see on the highways is field corn. While a small portion is processed for use as corn cereal, corn starch, corn oil and corn syrup, it is primarily used for livestock feed, ethanol production and other manufactured goods. It is harvested when the corn is dry and fully mature. Sweet corn is grown as a vegetable and is grown from sweet corn seeds which are different from field corn seeds.
Popcorn is an entirely different variety of corn than sweet corn and field corn.
Q: Is organic food better for you?
According to USDA, the answer is unclear at this time. U.S. organic standards and certification do not address food quality, but the method of production. Valid scientific research comparing organic and conventional foods is scant and what has been done focuses on very specific foods and conditions. Some general trends do note that organic foods contain slightly higher levels of trace minerals, vitamin C and antioxidant phytonutrients than conventionally grown crops.
Q: What is the farm bill?
A new farm bill was passed in 2014. Although most refer to this piece of legislation as the "
Farm Bill" it encompasses much more than just policies and subsidies for farmers.
Approximately 3/4 of the Farm Bill is dedicated to the federal nutrition programs such as food stamps, WIC, food banks and school healthy snack and lunch programs. Food banks are facing increased demands due to increasing food costs and job losses.
The overall mission of the bill is to support the production of a reliable, safe and affordable supply of food and fiber; promote stewardship of agricultural land and water resources; facilitate access to American farm products at home and abroad; encourage continued economic and infrastructure development in rural America; and ensure continued research to maintain an efficient and innovative agricultural and food sector.
Approximately 12 percent of the total bill will be spent on farm programs over the next five years. When you look at this amount in terms of the big picture, farm programs receive support at 1/4 of 1 percent of the total federal budget.