Smaller Farms = Higher Prices?

 Posted by on 11 April 2009 at 6:05 am  FA/RM, Food
Apr 112009
 

Why is food purchased from local farms often so damn expensive? I recently ran across two interesting essays on the topic via the blog Food Renegade, both focused on livestock.

First, in Unfair Fare, part-time New York farmer Bob Comis argues that the problem stems from a failure on the part of many small farmers to take advantage of economies of scale. Instead, these farmers tend to rely on the willingness of some not-so-bright folks to pay exorbitant prices for locally-produced food. Undoubtedly, many consumers do need to be smarter shoppers.

Second, in Why Local Food Is More Expensive, farmer Joel Salatin argues that the high prices are largely the product of massive government controls. These controls are not merely ill-suited to the workings of the small farm; they also entail fixed costs that burden small farms far more than large farms.

Whether you will ever buy food direct from a farm or not, I heartily suggest reading this second article. The inanity, burden, and expense of these government controls on farmers is worth glimpsing in its concrete details. It’s not a pretty picture.

Notably, while these two explanations for high prices of locally-produced food differ, they are not mutually exclusive. However, in the long run, the government controls over farms are clearly far more significant than the poor judgment of some farmers and consumers. The market can and will weed out inefficient farms via competition over time. In contrast, government controls can only be remedied by a massive cultural and political u-turn toward free market agriculture. Given the general confusion about and hostility to free markets today — and given that large farms often support such controls as a means of suppressing their competition — that u-turn will be no easy task.

Activism Against NAIS

 Posted by on 16 March 2009 at 11:01 pm  Activism, FA/RM
Mar 162009
 

On March 11th, a congressional committee held a public hearing on plans to expand NAIS, the National Animal Identification System. This issue has been on my radar thanks to Monica Hughes’ blogging on it on the FA/RM blog. An action alert from the Weston A. Price Foundation describes the proposal as follows:

The USDA has proposed a rule to require all farms and ranches where animals are raised to be registered in a federal database under the NAIS for existing disease control programs. The draft rule covers programs for cattle, goats, sheep, and swine. It also sets the stage for mandatory NAIS animal identification in the future.

It’s not too late to comment. The alert noted that:

You can submit written testimony to the subcommittee up to 10 days after the hearing. Send your testimony to the Hearing Clerk, Jamie Mitchell, at Jamie.Mitchell@mail.house.gov. Be sure to put “March 11 Hearing – Animal Identification Programs” in the subject line. Keep your comments clear, polite, and concise.

Here is the e-mail that I sent yesterday. I encourage others to write their own letters.

From: Diana Hsieh <diana@dianahsieh.com> Date: Mon, 16 Mar 2009 09:58:58 -0600 To: <Jamie.Mitchell@mail.house.gov> Subject: March 11 Hearing – Animal Identification Programs

Dear Members of the Subcommittee on Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry –

I am writing to you to oppose National Animal Identification System (NAIS).

I am an ordinary citizen from Colorado, albeit with some interest in raising livestock myself. I am opposed to NAIS because:

* NAIS violates the property rights of all farmers. Farmers should not be required to tag their livestock any more than parents should be required to tag their children. Livestock is private property, and the government should respect that by limiting itself to protecting the rights of property and contract.

* The costs of compliance with NAIS will drive smaller farmers out of business. Sadly, I suspect that many large farms — particularly those already on the government dole — are pushing for NAIS for that very reason. They are eliminating their competition by government regulation. That’s anti-American. The government should not be complicit in such schemes.

* NAIS will raise prices for consumers. Food prices have already gone through the roof. Particularly during an economic downturn, to require farmers to incur more costs — which will then be passed on to consumers — is very bad economic policy. Freedom, not government controls and regulation, is the key to economic prosperity.

* NAIS will not protect the food supply. The government does a lousy job of protecting the food supply, as the recent peanut butter and tomato scares show. The solution is not more burdensome regulations. It is a free market in agriculture. Under that system, Americans would have the capacity to buy from known local farmers or rely on the private certification of their choice. Americans will be responsible for their own safety — just as they ought to be. We are not children: we are rational adults who ought to be free to act on our own best judgment.

NAIS is indefensible. It is anti-American. It should be wholly abandoned.

For more information on Free Market Agriculture, see the web site of Free Agriculture – Restore Markets (FA/RM) at http://fa-rm.org/.

– DMH

Diana Hsieh Ph.D Candidate, Philosophy, CU Boulder E-mail: diana@dianahsieh.com Blog: http://www.dianahsieh.com/blog Twitter: http://twitter.com/DianaHsieh Secular Government: http://www.SecularGovernment.us Free Market Medicine: http://www.WeStandFIRM.org

I also sent that letter to my two senators and one representative in Washington.

If you express your opposition to this dangerous and expensive expansion of government control over the private property of farmers, write to the subcommittee hearing clerk at Jamie.Mitchell@mail.house.gov. You can find and contact your own representatives via Congress.org. You are welcome to use my letter (or portions thereof) as you see fit. Please feel free to post what you write in the comments.

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