The benefit of small farms
American Agriculture Market Control
Profit margins on a farm don’t increase or decrease drastically based on number of acres farmed. Farmers rely on scaling to become profitable. Growing hay in southern Idaho requires just under 500 acers to be profitable.
Big dairies are beneficial for consumers. They keep the price of dairy low and products accessible. These big dairies have found that it’s cheaper to buy ground for top dollar and grow feed for their cows themselves than buying feed from other farmers surrounding their dairy.
The downside for consumers? When big dairies have disease in their herd or a disaster like the barn fire in Texas earlier this year, dairy product availability decreases and the price of available product increases.
The United States Department of Agriculture said “Family and small farms are vital to our economy and well-being as a nation. Not only do they support the competitiveness and sustainability of rural and farm economies.” Small farms are integral part of the U.S., but they are slowly dying.
Big dairies buying ground at top dollar prices out smaller farms, making it nearly impossible to scale operations. It’s possible to pick up bits and pieces of land here and there for a normal price simply because it’s too much of a hassle for big dairies to get to. Unfortunately for farmers, this decreases profit and efficiency because fields are spread out.
Even with the purchase of thousands of acers, many of these large dairies still cannot produce enough feed for their own cows, which means farmers can still sell feed to dairies at a profit. Dairy cows require a higher protein hay, which is more easily grown in a high and dry climate, like the one found in southern Idaho.
Idaho farmers grow, harvest, and ship hay to meet nutrition demands of cattle across the United States, not just southern Idaho, so if dairies close won’t pay, dairies farther away will, and hay is shipped across the country and even across the world.
Shipping benefits farmers and dairies, but contributes to food waste and greenhouse gasses, which is discussed more thoroughly in this post.