It seems people outside agriculture routinely try to define the family farm. In our contemporary society this means people one or two generations removed from the land who live in sprawling suburbia.
Today, men and women whose great-grandfathers or grandfathers worked the fields with mules and horses, progressed to tractors and are now using GPS, sit behind desks and computers serving a public they rarely, or never, see or know.
The world as we knew it a few short years ago is different today. Computers, smart phones and our entire way of communication have changed the way we live and work. Social media has replaced traditional sources of learning and made our world smaller and in some ways more constrained.
Considering these factors and many more too numerous to mention, let’s take a look at the family farm. Today’s contemporary farm needs to be based on owner operation. This means the rights and responsibilities of ownership are vested in an entrepreneur who works the farm for a living.
The second key in defining the family farm system should include independence. Independence is defined as financing from within its own resources using family labor, management and intellect to build equity and cash flow that will retire the mortgage, preferably in the lifetime of the owner.
Economic dispersion is the next important step in defining what a family farm should entail. Economic dispersion would include large numbers of efficient-sized farms operating with equal access to competitive markets worldwide.
No family farm would be complete without a family core. This family-centered operation must have a family that lives its life in harmony within the workplace. All family members share responsibilities and the children learn the vocation of their parents.
The ideal family farm would be commercially diversified. Production of diversified commodities should help reduce price risks and maximize the use of farm resources to produce crops and livestock that would, in turn, provide greater self-sufficiency.
One final attribute necessary in defining today’s family farm would be the acceptance and use of innovative technology. This should not only enhance farm labor but also help boost production.
Family farming carries with it a commitment to specific, independent values. These values become a part of the community and include conservation, frugality, responsibility, honesty, dignity in work, neighborliness, self-reliance and concern and care for future generations.
While it’s rare indeed that one particular family farm may possess all of these attributes, together they have created a system of agriculture that has been a part of our rural culture since this nation’s beginning.
— John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. He was raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas.