Why Don’t Farmers and Ranchers Get Paid Well For the Food They Produce?

This piece by Jack Lazor was originally published as an op-ed in the VTDigger. We're sharing it because it provides important context for a discussion about agriculture policy and how as a country and community we make sure everyone has enough to eat while supporting the farmers and ranchers who make it possible. He looks at it from the perspective of a Vermont dairy farmer, but it addresses all of us. Just about every dairy farmer in Vermont will tell you that their industry is in a grave crisis situation. The experts tell us that our present system of pricing commodity milk from the farm is broken and pretty much unrepairable. There is simply too much milk being produced. According to the agricultural economists, we are now in a global marketplace and milk prices show no sign of improvement in the near future. Several well-respected commentators have recently made some pretty radical suggestions they feel will help the situation. For

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5 thoughts on “Why Don’t Farmers and Ranchers Get Paid Well For the Food They Produce?

  1. Great read, Jack. Thanks for sharing your experience and knowledge on dairy farming in Vermont. I think the challenges you mention are shared broadly across many, if not all, sectors of agricultural production.

    The mechanization, commodification and chemical cocktail usage (and now biological manipulation) is wrecking havoc on ecological processes. Until we can find a way to make sound ecological stewardship more economically viable for farmers, I fear this trend will only worsen.

    There are a lot of promising developments beginning to surface under the broad banner of “Regenerative Agriculture”. It seems many people are identifying the value of the intersection between Economy and Ecology and how supporting healthy ecology can have major economic benefits. And, conversely, allowing ecological function to erode is just like watching your future economic potentials erode.

  2. Jack, like the others I really appreciates the dairy history you presented. And, with john’s post. We in the cattle industry were also led astray by our land grant universities. It began with the assumption that if we sell weight, that more weight is more profitable. The universities made no economical analysis to prove or disprove that assumption.

    John is correct with this quote. “The current fascination of the academic world with deciphering the DNA sequence, embryo transplant, specific EPDs, and on and on has virtually nothing to do with assisting farmers succeed or making the earth a more pleasant place.”

    Our universities have forsaken nature with their focus on technology. This has to change for the cow calf beef producer. Nature and technology are bitter enemies. Nature is attempting to continue as it did for thousands of years. Technology is trying to bulldoze nature into a minor role.

  3. Thank you for such a clearly written breakdown of the history. I am starting a small cattle operation in northern New Mexico and your piece is encouraging, where most are bleak or self-satisfied. Cheers.

  4. Jack: thank you so much for your thoughtful writing. Many of the issues you identify also apply to the beef industry. As a grazier, I find myself increasingly disappointed with my land grant college. The current fascination of the academic world with deciphering the DNA sequence, embryo transplant, specific EPDs, and on and on has virtually nothing to do with assisting farmers succeed or making the earth a more pleasant place. The folks working at our research facilities (largely funded by Dow, Monsanto, etc.) should be required to take a class or two in Ecology and Economics, followed by a year or two milking cows or chopping weeds.

  5. A small state like Vermont with much larger urban markets near by may actually be able to pull this off. You could implement some standards of conservation/sustainable/regenerative (or come up with a new name) agriculture that includes but doesn’t mandate organic to create buy-in from farmers. I wish you well!

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