February 2017 Newsletter
What's Going On at the Farm
For February 2017
For Southern Farmers, February is seen as a time of transition. Normally the month starts out with some of the coldest weather of the season with a warm day or two thrown in for good measure. This year we have had almost nothing but warm days and cool, not cold, nights. With the long range forecast showing days in the 80's and nights in the 50's, the talk around our local community has turned to early corn plantings and the possibility of a hot, dry, spring.
When Annie and I moved here to the farm over 30 years ago, everyone farmed. Everywhere you looked, every small parcel of land, had corn, soybeans, or vegetables on it. Most of the farms also had hogs and cows on them. In the early 90's, Uncle Jr. had 125 cows and some hogs on the farm where we live now. At that time the farm was 170 acres but we were only able to purchase 74 so are unable to run as many cows today as he did.
Walterboro had a local stockyard where everyone brought their cows and hogs to sell. Low beef and pork prices drove most of the livestock farmers out of business and sales at the stockyard dropped. The stockyard eventually closed and has since been torn down.
Six miles or so from the farm was Round O Milling. The farmers that didn't have on farm corn storage would store their corn there or sell them their corn to use in the mills livestock feed. The farmers that didn't have hammer mills on the farm would have the mill custom grind their hog and cow feeds. As corn and soybean prices continued to plummet, and the local farmers got older, business slumped and the mill shut down. Once the mill closed the grain storage also went away and the older farmers, or less profitable ones, stopped planting corn rather than invest in on farm storage.
Today, what was once farm land is now over grown with brush, has been planted in pine trees, or has been sold in small lots for mobile homes or houses. We recently lost the "new ground" when Annie's cousin sold it to a developer. Plans are to sell small "hobby" farms (3 to 5 acres) or to split it into small lots rather than keeping it in a 26 acre parcel and farming it.
Why am I using our monthly newsletter to talk about this? Because farming is in a horrible state right now and the average American doesn't know about it. Over the past 30 or more years, agricultural news hasn't been reported on local or national news programs and is only reported on special agricultural radio and TV stations which means the average person is no longer informed on the situation in rural America.
In 2016, over 8,000 farms were closed! 8,000! Total farm numbers include large, medium, small, and hobby farms so the numbers could be a little misleading. What isn't misleading is that the number of small and hobby farms is increasing while the number of large and medium size farms is decreasing. Sounds encouraging to those of us that are small farms but, in reality, it should scare the pants off of us.
While hobby farms sound inviting and romantic, they provide little to no food for the community. Small farms do provide food to the local community but can also be undependable. Too often small farms open up only to close down in a year or two because the farmer found the work too hard or was unable to successfully market the products grown. Marketing takes time away from producing the product and can limit the farms ability to grow since the farmer is doing both the production and the sales functions. Small farms also fail because the support of the local community can be fickle with customers purchasing the farms products for awhile than switching back to shopping at the local grocery store. Lets face it, everyone is busy today and is looking for ways of getting a few extra minutes of personal time. Buying from local farmers means spending time going to a farm market which takes additional time out of an already hectic week. Money is also tight causing families to seek out the best opportunities to lower their food bill; too often this means buying from a lower priced grocery store.
Why are so many farms shutting down? Thats an easy one to answer; low commodity prices. For the past few years corn and soybean prices, along with cotton and wheat, have been running below the cost of production. The farmers that raise commodity crops borrow large sums of money annually to plant and grow these crops while they hope for a big increase in their yields or a weather related problem that would cause the commodity price of the crop to increase to profitable levels. Can you imagine hoping that a farmer in another area of the country suffers a crop failure from drought so that you can receive a profitable price on your crop? That is exactly what is happening in commodity agriculture today.
When I say "commodity crop" , I'm talking about corn, soybeans, cotton, wheat, and a couple of others. Commodity corn is not the corn that you would eat. Commodity corn is used to make ethanol, feed livestock, used to make corn syrup, and is even used to make packing peanuts and other packaging material. Soybeans are used to make bio-diesel, is used in livestock feeds, cooking oils, industrial oils, ink, plastics, crayons, and a ton of other industrial type products; your cars dashboards and other plastic components are made using soybeans.
With the US having record corn and soybean crops the past few years, the prices have remained low causing the farms to lose money; fertilizer, seed, and other input costs have continued to rise while the price received by the farmer continues to drop. In order to continue farming, the farmer incurs more debt so that they can plant another crop, and the cycle continues. Today farm debt is the largest its been since the farm crisis of the 1980's.
I know most of you don't remember the 80's farm crisis. The problem was simple, farm debt was higher than farm values. This wasn't all the farmers fault as it first appears, but was a combination of low farm commodity prices causing the farmer to borrow more money to operate and falling land values due to a slumping US economy. All of a sudden the farmers land wasn't worth as much as it had been just a short time earlier causing them to be upside down. The banks saw that the farmer was no longer soluble and mass foreclosures and auctions began taking place, forced by the banks and USDA. Jessica Lange stared in a movie called "Country" that was based on the struggles of a farm family during this time.
I'm not saying that we are entering into another farm crisis but I am saying that we need to be careful; history has a way of repeating itself. The system is broke and needs to be fixed.
Annie and I left commodity agriculture years ago and have never looked back. Our prices are set by the cost of our production rather than us accepting what a large company will pay us. The years we spent raising and selling hogs to Smithfield showed us that they were more than happy to purchase hogs below production cost and they worked hard to keep prices low at their buying stations. Several years of us losing money was enough; we shut the hog operation down.
We know there is a way of providing local communities with healthy products while supporting the local economy with the farms dollars. We are not saying the cost of the food will be cheaper than what can be purchased at the store but can assure you the taste, quality, and health benefits will be greater. Our farm's economic impact includes a few local jobs and several thousand dollars a month spent with the local farm supply stores, feed mill, and a host of other local businesses including banks, gas stations, restaurants, mechanic shops, and tire stores just to name a few. Farms are an important part of the local, rural economy. We can't continue to watch as they go out of business while big business increases their use of cheap, imported, agricultural products.
In all of our newsletters I tell everyone what we are doing here on the farm. We try to update everyone on our Facebook page and we often open up the farm and encourage everyone to come out and see how your food is raised. I think the most important thing you can do for your family is to ask questions, go visit the farms you support, and make sure things are being done as they should. Small farms are transparent and the farmers are always welcoming people out to see the operation.
Another important task is to promote local markets. Tell your friends and neighbors where you purchase your food. Tell them who produces your meats and who raises your vegetables. Have them contact the farmer and ask the questions that are important to them. Ask them to go to the market with you and make a fun morning out of it. Ask your local restaurant where the food they serve comes from. Ask them to purchase locally, tell them its important. Without the support of the local community, small farms will fail,markets will close, and we will have to purchase products from corporate grocery chains.
What has happened here on the farm during February? A lot. Three of the new chicken pastures and their houses are complete and now have chickens in them. The new brooder is about 3/4 complete; the structure has basically been completed but we are waiting for the equipment to arrive and be installed. We expect the brooder to be operational within the next 2 to 3 weeks.
Jesse bought the tin and wood required to repair the roof on the old egg room building that was torn up by Mathew. Repairs will begin this week. Eventually the building will be turned into our farm office and will be used as our meeting place and provide us a place to meet with visiting chefs. Annie may be able to get back some of her kitchen area that has been used as the farm office for years.
Bubba has rebuilt the John Deere 900HC but found some problems with an injector. The tractor is 30 years old so we decided to replace all of the injectors and are waiting for them to come in. The tractor should be operational early next week. As soon as the 900HC is running we will tear down the John Deere 2355 and replace the clutch and fix a hydraulic problem. It is extremely important for us to complete all of the equipment repairs prior to planting and hay season; we don't need break downs during the growing season.
Bubba has begun cutting ground in the hog lots. We will plant most of this in corn beginning in the next few weeks. Once grown, we will turn hogs into these fields and let them harvest the corn themselves while providing us with some fertilizer for the next crop.
The biggest news in February was the birth of our grandson. Marc Joseph (Joey) was born on February 17 and weighed 6 lbs, 7 ozs. Mother and baby are doing well. Emmy was all excited about her new baby brother but quickly lost interest when she realized he wasn't going to play with her. She keeps telling us that she is going to teach him to talk, walk, and play. She can't wait to show him all of the farms animals. We now have 2 grandchildren and 2 nephews, all 4 and under, running around the farm daily.
Over the past 12 years Keegan-Filion Farm has grown beyond our greatest dreams. We have watched as the demand for locally grown products has increased with several new farm markets opening in the greater Charleston area. These markets, and the farms that participate in them, will only survive with community support.
Its time we break away from industrial agriculture and corporate marketing. Its time to strengthen our local economy and provide the healthiest food possible for our families.
One of our goals for 2017 is to promote local agriculture and to help build a strong community supported agriculture base. Its time we break away from the broken system they call "agribusiness" and build a new, stronger, locally supported, agriculture model.
Thanks for your continued support of our farm.
Annie, Marc, Amy, & Jesse