Illinois Farm Families Blog

Jan 25 2012

A farmer’s take on family farms vs. industrial farms, part 2

Family farmers take great care to provide safe, healthy food for consumers. As you can see our Illinois farms come in many shapes and sizes, and 94 percent are family owned and operated. Learn more about the reasons why family farms grow, some of their challenges, and how farms are preserved for the next generation.

Here’s the farmers’ take:  

From Doug Anderson, farmer from Albion, Illinois:
The answer to this question is much simpler than it may seem.  Ask yourself, “Who owns and operates the farm?”  Is it owned and operated by relatives of the same family?  If the answer is “yes” then it is a family farm.  Do not confuse the designation of “family farm” with a business model.  Farming is a small business, and many family farms are incorporated or set up as a partnership.  One common reason for incorporating the farm is so that ownership can be transferred from one generation to the next.  Another reason may be that the farm is owned by several family members, but only a few of them are actively involved in the day-to-day operations of the farm.  Regardless of how the farming operation is structured, it is still a family farm. 

John Kiefner, Kiefner Family Farm, Manhattan, Illinois:
To meet my definition of a family farm, a family must provide more than half of the labor necessary in the farming operation.  It is becoming more difficult to meet this criterion and remain profitable, because modern farming involves a wide variety of skills.  
My individual farm operation requires me to act as a mechanic, truck driver, grain marketer, agronomist, entomologist, and accountant.  Occasionally, I also perform the duties of electrician, welder, carpenter, and veterinarian.  Other skills that are helpful are communication skills, political activist/lobbyist, and legal expert.  I perform many of these jobs on a daily basis.
The challenge that is involved is being proficient at this diverse skill set.  It is not enough simply perform these skills; they must be performed well in order to remain competitive and profitable in this business.

Cyndy Monier, an Illinois farmer:
Sometimes the difference between a family farm and an industrial farm is in the words alone.  Large farms are generally family owned and operated in much the same way as a smaller family farm.  One may think that a 5,000 or 6,000 acre farm is a large industrial farm, but that farm may be supporting five or more households in a family.  That makes the acreage per family around 1,000 acres, not a large farm at all by today's standards. 
The use of the term "industrial" farm conjures up, in most cases, a negative image of modern agriculture that is simply not accurate.  The overwhelming majority of farms, large and small, are family owned, family run and have remained in the same family for generations. Prudent farmers take care of land and/or animal assets because it is the right thing to do, the best way to stay in business, and the best way to preserve the farm for future generations.  Therefore, the size of a farm is irrelevant, in relation to sound farming practices.

We welcome your questions and participation for a conversation about today's food and farming. Illinois Farm Families reserves the right to moderate or remove inappropriate, threatening or otherwise inflammatory comments.

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