It is easy to assume that more and more farms are now corporate farms or supported by corporate investors, given the complex machinery, large plots of land and various tax rules for farms. Recent news regarding Bill Gates ownership of agricultural land has supported the widespread idea that corporations are king in the world of agriculture.
Farmers and ranchers in Washington state and elsewhere would disagree. While farmers and ranchers own large chunks of equipment and acres of land, agriculture is still a family business in most cases.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 80% of Washington state farms and farms are family-owned and run. A “family farm” is defined as a farm organized as a single enterprise, partnership or family corporation and excludes “non-family corporations, cooperatives or farms with employed managers” (the latter is the way Bill’s agricultural land is managed Gates). This means, in our state, about 28,800 out of 36,000 farms and our farms are owned and run by families.
Despite the recent points of conversation alluding to farmers and ranchers working “less than half the time” when farmers and ranchers say there is no such thing as a day off or are upset by regulations that hinder their ability to take care of their crops and livestock, for every decision made by any distant legislator is far removed from the lived reality of the farm or ranch. Almost all the decisions made by Washington state farmers and ranchers affect a family sitting around a dinner table trying to determine what to do next. Too often, new regulations and laws put those families at risk, regardless of the consequences.
Still, families operating farms and ranches in the state of Washington have to make decisions about large sums of money that will affect their lives for many years to come. In East Washington in particular, where a single field can grow up to 640 acres in size, farmers need large tractors to be as efficient and effective as possible. As a major investment, a new tractor can cost up to $ 250,000.
These risky decisions are not made in a banking office or in a corporate board room; they are usually made around a kitchen table with farm spreadsheets or farm finances presented to the family. This is why family ties to land and people are so strong in the farming community.
However, not only because decisions are made by family members, the farming community is unique in its structure. Along with relying on each other for guidance in making difficult decisions, farmers and ranchers must depend on each other when the unpredictable happens.
Farmers and ranchers roll the dice with the weather, seeds, breeding cattle, physical well-being and a host of other factors out of their control every day. The best they can do is respond to what is happening and seek help when they need it.
Seeking help can be the biggest challenge a farmer or farmer faces in their personal or professional life. As a result, assistance is often an internal affair – a task left to family members to fill the gap left if the primary farmer or rancher becomes ill, injured, or away from the farm or ranch.
This is farm life at its core. Family members rearrange their lives as needed to help each other. Maybe it means longer days, early mornings, or just more to do in a day, but it is also the nature of farming that some tasks have to be done at a given time to ensure livestock health or sustainability of a culture. If the farmer or stockbreeder is unavailable to do the task, then the other available person should do it without delay, to ensure the continued success of the farm or ranch.