Today The Wall Street Journal ran an article talking about the effects of consolidation on the U.S. agricultural industry. Today 75% of all farmland is controlled by the 12% largest farming corporations. The results are clear. Many of us were impacted by Michael Moore’s “Food Inc.”. Small farms can avoid those negative results but the ability of a small farm to reach minimum critical income (the article mentions $50,000 per year) to survive has become more and more difficult.
The same trend affects the seafood industry. Almost everyone recognizes that the monopolization of the harvesting and distribution system is not healthy for the overall economy. Yet it is very difficult for a small operator to reach a minimum level of profitability. In addition, existing firms do all they can to prevent competition from small competitors.
I’ve cited this issue before. Older larger firms do not welcome new startups like those we host. There are plenty of examples of this business tactic in history from fishing and seafood businesses around the country. our harvesters have been told that we’ll never be able to buy some licenses and that existing firms will take deliberate steps to prevent us from expanding, easing growing grounds, etc. One large operator even sent a message through two watermen that he intended to spend money to keep us out of the business. It’s a ridiculous strategy but one that is common in the industry nonetheless.
The untapped market demand for agriculture and fishery products exceeds any additional production we can collectively add. It will certainly take effort to expand these markets and that is where we need o focus our attention and resources.
Farm-to-table and dock-to-table businesses will be successful if consumers vote their support with their dollars. Investors come aboard with necessary funding when they see the direction of consumer preferences. It’s really that simple. If consumers care where their food comes from, want a personal connection with the producers, demand accountability for safety and environmental responsibility, then small producers have a bright future. It comes down to an effort to spread the word and sell the story of sustainable local food from small producers.
Small farms and fisheries still have a long way to go to reach the average consumer’s attention. The United States Department of Agriculture is already heavily involved in helping to spread the message that diversity in food production is healthy for America’s future. We’ll continue to do our best to continue to spread the message.