Farming in the USA Series – part 1

Hi, I’m Amanda. I’m a lawyer and farmer’s daughter from Michigan in the United States. Our family farm started four generations ago as a fruit farm off the coast of Lake Michigan. The lake provides a unique climate that makes it ideal for fruit trees. I grew up with my grandparents, parents, and two brothers working the land. We raised fruit and vegetables to supply our roadside stand, and grew corn and soybeans on the side.

These days I work as an attorney in Indiana, where I hope to establish an agricultural-law practice. My oldest brother still works on the farm with mom and dad, who have transitioned to all corn and soybeans. The youngest brother currently works as a crop-insurance adjuster.

Ben approached me late last year about collaborating with him to provide our respective audiences some insight on what it’s like to farm on either side of the pond. I readily agreed. I made my first trip to the UK last spring to visit my cousin who is working on his PhD at Westminster. For ten days we toured castles and cathedrals in London and Scotland that satiated my thirst for all things historical. But the closest I got to the countryside was the beautiful train ride up to Edinburgh. So I feel as though there is still so much more to explore.

Ben agreed to share his experience as a UK farmer with my readers. And I’m going to share my experience with all of you. But a word of caution: I hardly speak for all US farmers. We’re a diverse bunch growing a wide array of different commodities. That diversity keeps things interesting because there’s always someone growing something different that we can learn from.

By far, the biggest issue facing US producers is the economy. It’s pretty bad. Dairy farmers are going bankrupt in record numbers. Commodity prices are so low we’re barely making ends meet. And average farm profits have fallen drastically the last five or so years. Unless prices come up significantly, and soon, I worry how long many family farms will survive.

We’re a resilient group though. Many are cautiously optimistic that the Trump administration will renegotiate trade deals with China, the EU, and the UK and open new markets. The federal government just passed a five year farm bill which provides for countless agriculture programs and provides some stability. And we’ve seen the repeal of overreaching regulations that threatened to add unnecessary burdens.

US farmers are also facing another challenge: food marketing. Consumers increasingly want healthy and nutritious food, which is great and something we can provide. Unfortunately, public-relations teams and activist organizations have hijacked this movement and turned it into something different. We’ve seen the complete demonization of genetically-modified crops, the “clean food” movement, and anti-animal agriculture smear campaigns. Conventional farming methods, even when more environmentally-friendly and highly productive, are seen as dangerous, unhealthy, and bad.

Farmers are combatting this by turning to the internet and social media. But without the resources of well-funded activists, it’s a slow, uphill climb. And now this sentiment is reaching our elected officials. Just recently the majority party in the House of Representatives released a resolution titled the “Green New Deal.” While it was heralded as a proposal to fight climate change, it seeks to overall the US food system. And likely not in ways we would like.

Despite the economic and social challenges we’re facing, US farmers are fiercely proud of the food we grow. We live in a time with a safe, nutritious, and abundant food supply. We’re adopting production methods that minimally impact the environment. And we’re continuing the legacy of family farmers. Those are all reasons to be optimistic and celebrate.

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Amanda is a lawyer and farmer’s daughter from Southwest Michigan. Her family raises over 2,000 acres of corn and soybeans on their fourth-generation family farm. Amanda practices law in Indiana, while writing and promoting modern agriculture at her website The Farmer’s Daughter USA. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

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