U.S. Farms Shut Down at Record Rate

Just as in Europe and in the Global South, independent family farms in the United States have been increasingly pushed out of business by the major food multinationals and industrial farms. According to the figures cited just a few months ago by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, 39,700 farms closed down in the five-year period between 2017 and 2023. During that same period, 2.8 million hectares were lost to production in the U.S., while (although he didn’t say so) prices soared and so did malnourishment. Vilsack further confirmed that the top 7.5% of farms earned 89% of total farm income in 2022. The remaining 92.5% of farms, numbering about 2 million, share only 11% of that sum.

The farm sector the hardest hit has been dairy farming, which deals with a perishable product and demands skilled, constant attention, as well as high capital investment. Dairy farms are shutting down at rates of 5-10% a year in the traditional dairy states. The milk prices paid to the farmer have fallen at a rate of 80% from one year ago, making the situation untenable. In some places, cow numbers remain level, as big operations take over. But the stage is set for mass cuts in food production.

So far, U.S. dairy consumption has been maintained by imports of milk constituents from New Zealand and elsewhere, that are reconstituted as cheese and other ersatz dairy products, in addition to the quantities produced by the huge industrial herds. Walmart, for example, set up its own gigantic milk center in Indiana a few years ago, and canceled all its purchase contracts with independent family-run farms.

Unfortunately, what the Biden Administration proposes to boost the income of the 92%, can only worsen the situation. Vilsack announced federal funds for various projects, but most of them are aimed at reducing carbon emissions and promoting renewable energy. Not at producing more food or increasing productivity.

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