Defining ‘family farm’ requires careful thought


People outside of agriculture routinely try to define the family farm. These same folks have a tendency to question corporate farming whether family owned or not. Farm organizations often fall under the same scrutiny.

Let’s take a look at the family farm. In Kansas, farm and ranch families grow up with the feel of the prairie earth beneath their feet, the wide-open sky overhead and the rhythm of the seasons in their blood.

Throughout their lifetime, these farms and ranches remain their pride and joy. They love, care and respect the land entrusted to them. Ag producers adhere to an ethic that enlarges the boundaries of our community to include soils, waters, plants and animals—collectively—the land.

This entity known as the family farm is based on owner operation. This means the rights and responsibilities of ownership are vested in an entrepreneur who works the farm for a living.

Another key ingredient of the family farm system is independence. Independence means financing from within its own resources using family labor, management and intellect to build equity and cash flow that will retire the mortgage, preferably in the lifetime of the owner.

Economic dispersion is another integral part of the family farm. Economic dispersion includes large numbers of efficient-sized farms operating with equal access to competitive markets worldwide.

No family farm would be complete without the family core. This family centered operation must have a family that lives its life in harmony within the workplace. All family members share responsibilities and the children learn the vocation of their parents.

At an early age, these young men and women learn to work with their dads and moms on the family farm. Here, they develop self-reliance and initiative. They often rise with the sun and finish work when it sets. Yet, they rarely take this place called home for granted.

The ideal family farm is commercially diversified. Produc­tions of diversified commodities help reduce price risks and maximize the use of farm resources to produce crops and livestock that in turn provide greater self-sufficiency.

One final attribute necessary in defining today’s family farm would be the acceptance and use of innovative technology. This would not only enhance farm labor but also help boost production.

Family farming carries with it a commitment to specific, independent values. These values become part of the community and include conservation, frugality, responsibility, honesty, dignity in work, neighborly, self-reliance and concern and care for future generations.

While it’s rare indeed that one particular family farm may possess all of these attributes, together they have created a system of agriculture that has been a part of our rural culture since this nation’s beginning.

Today, detractors of this profession are making it increasingly difficult for this vital industry to progress and prosper. Maybe they should tend to their own business and let farmers and ranchers continue doing what they do best – responsibly producing the healthiest, safest in the world.

John Schlageck is a leading commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. Born and raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas, his writing reflects a lifetime of experience, knowledge and passion.


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