The economic hardship of one farm family, if they are our neighbors, affects us more painfully than pages of statistics on the decline of the farm population. Wendell Berry
Today, as I read about the price of pork, and how we’ll be experiencing a world-wide shortage (less so in the USA) I feel sad. I don’t feel bad about the prices rising, or even a shortage, if there is one. I feel bad because I know that there are farmers who won’t be farmers soon.
Yes, I realize that most pig farmers are corporations. That of the 73,150 pork farms in the United States, about 20 percent of these account for about 90 percent of revenue. And many of the corporations that will lose $45 for each pig they sell will just write it off on their balance sheet. And I know that 4% of pork farms that produce over 5000 pigs per year, and that the current growth of CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) is considered one of the most influential factors to the disappearance of family farming.
But I also know that 70% of pork farms produce 100 or less pigs per year. And I figure that after this year, that figure will go down to 60% or perhaps 50% but that won’t make the news. And instead of making money for 5-6 months of work, families raising 100 pigs are losing $4500. A corporation has the cash to hang in there and wait. A family that relies on yearly income can’t.
The other reason I’m feeling bad is because I know there are a lot of people out there who could really use a pork roast, or a pound of bacon. And I also know that there are now 50,000 pig farmers who would really like to at least break even on the pigs they grew over the last half year. I’m certain that Smithfield Foods is hardly interested in how many pig farmers go out of business this year, and perhaps prefer that more would, consolidating their choke hold on the industry.
But as I wrote many years ago, about dairy farmers in New England, every farmer we lose today is a farmer we’ll grieve the loss of tomorrow. And while I don’t personally know any pig farmers, I’m grieving that loss today.
So I’m hearing the jokes from newscasters about this, and the lamenting about the BLT that some restaurant may not be able to sell, and I’m adding my voice. Here is to the farmers who don’t find the news too funny, and here is to the families who are worried about how they’ll swing another rise in food prices this winter, never mind eat a BLT in a restaurant for lunch.