Wanted: A Farmer



Reading “Help Wanted” sections  in local rural newspapers, I am moved to smiles or tears or both at one advertisement that appears more and more often these days. It goes like this: “Looking for a good, full time, all around farm assistant to drive modern farm equipment and trucks for all farm operations including planting, spraying and transporting crops. Must be self-motivated and willing to learn.  Must take responsibility for maintaining and repairing  equipment. Must be willing to work long hours and weekends during peak seasons. Wage based on experience.”

There is so much irony involved here. Let me count the ways.

Here is the big farm that needs a real farmer that the big farm drove out of business.

Here is the big farm that knows how to get more land or machinery to continue to grow but can’t hire a real farmer to do the work.

How I would love to know what the “assistant” who answers this ad, if anyone does, will be offered  as a starting wage. (As soon as the word, wage, is used instead of salary, you know it won’t be much.) The employer is asking for someone with more brains than banking requires, as much stamina as professional sports demands, almost as many people skills as it takes to run a university and the dedication of a sainted doctor. But here in my neck of the woods, the going pay rate starts at minimum wage to about $15.00 an a hour and for sure no time and a half or double time for after hours work. There is no such thing as after hours in farming. Sometimes an enlightened big landowner is willing to match whatever a promising prospective employee is making elsewhere but the promising, prospective employee turns down the offer because he wants his after hours to be his own.

This is the history of farming at least back to the time of Land Enclosures in England. Economic evolution, or devolution, says that the land, the only real worldly treasure, will eventually go to the rich and the rich you have with you always. The small, dedicated farming landowner of a country’s early days becomes serf, slave, hired man, renter, sharecropper, etc., displaced as owner by the wealthy who demand in paper stocks or rent more return on the land than the dedicated small farmer ever received or wanted to receive. The galling detail in this process is the investor saying piously that he is trying to save the world from starvation when he buys or forces the little guy out of land ownership. He will add pompously that the little guy is not competent enough to run a farm in modern times anyway, and then turns around and tries to hire him.

Agricultural history can be written in a few words: displace love of farming with love of money. Displace farmstead homes with high rises jutting into the sky or hovels sprawling in the ghettos, where the displaced are forced to live while utterly dependent on money for food and water. Displace fertile soil with compacted surfaces for large machinery to speed over or for huge reservoirs of water to keep the displaced people in their snaggle-toothed high rise chimneys or dilapidated ghetto sheds alive enough to do the work.

Then when the wealthy landowner can’t find real farmers to do his farm work, he must in desperation hire displaced nine- to- five chimney or hovel dwellers without enough knowledge or love of farming to be able to drive a staple into a post. Then the landowner moans and groans when the “assistant” wrecks his half million dollar tractor. But what the hell. He was going to displace that tractor with a bigger one anyway.

Displace, displace, displace.  How many bushels of job displacements does big farm machinery harvest every year?

Of course, all this can be looked at positively as economic and social progress. Big agribusiness farming allows for a whole new cadre of displaced rural people to get educated and  work as “assistants” for the factory farms and make a lot more money than they ever made farming on their own. Yep. Now they’ve achieved the American dream— except the freedom to live their own lives in their own way. Just keep your mouth shut and do what your corporate boss tells you to do and all will be well.


Round here(western WI) there are still a few guys milking cows, but most sold em and now are crop farmers, or what some call 4 x 4,s = they farm 4 weeks in the spring and 4 weeks in the fall, dont know what they do the rest of the time?

and here I am – in British Columbia Canada – 60, with years of experience, my own tractors, plows, a Dodge pickup, a 14ft flatdeck, full woodworking shop, welding equipment. I can repair leather harnesses, build and repair furniture, sheds and houses. I got a few years left in me but cant find work anywhere, and believe me Id move to wherever the job was. Too old I hear…

My son-in-law was visiting this past week and asked some challenging questions and made some equally challenging comments. One came after a rather poor potato harvest was gathered in and sorted and he said he could have bought many bags of potatoes for the amount of time he put in, if he had been working in the office. Of course it wouldn’t have been our potatoes and then there are the issues of what they are sprayed with that comes into play, but it wasn’t until later on in the week it hit me that one of the issues was the price we pay for the food we eat and how that comes about due to the low wages. Seems like we are on the same page there then Gene.

I have three fields, all in hay (about 60 acres). They are shared-cropped. I take care of a small part of them and have trouble doing it well. How can people farm a quarter-section (not to mention 250,000 acres) and know that land? A similar case occurred in the life of a king named Solomon: he tried 700 wives and ended up with one of his children losing the kingdom out of arrogance. He could have tried one wife and loving care for children.

another example of the FED’s too low interest rates at work. Inflating the value of capital and land at the expense of labor. too low interest rates allow large farmers to borrow almost infinite amounts of money to buy more land and bigger and bigger machines. A big farm needs fewer people per acre than a smaller one. This lowers the cost of production. Since most of the cash crops which are produced (i.e., corn) aren’t really needed, the real price of such crops will decrease towards the cost of production. Thus, the little guy is stressed, financially.

(wasting 30% of the corn crop on ethanol suggests that the corn really wasn’t needed).

technology is also at work in the farm… seeds that resist herbicides and pesticides. gigantic machines that plant, cultivate, and harvest faster. Global markets.

what will reverse this situation.

1. the end of GMO and mutant induced seeds. What is the limit of this technology. I haven’t a clue. Maybe the realisation by the public that this stuff needs human health testing? Maybe it really isn’t food anymore?

2. A massive increase in oil and natural gas prices. This is five and no more than ten years away.

3. higher interest rates. The land grabber will have to sell down.

Dan and Peg Barkemeyer September 11, 2014 at 7:08 pm

Your article hit us right in our living room after working for the big ranch another day. Yes, we are making a good living and we are debt free, but it is not the same as running our own outfit. At least we know we are not alone and it’s the same in Missouri as it is in Montana.

Well written and sounds like my life. The big farms just keep swallowing all us little guys out of business. Escalation in land prices driven by investors and large farms. A local “family” farm farms 25000 acres and owns multiple auto parts stores as well as a truckstop. A craftsman type farmer like myself is totally outmatched. I am still proud to be called a farmer but realize I am working myself to death for a pittance.

    “… but realize I am working myself to death for a pittance.”

    It seems as though you are still comparing yourself to the poor standards set by this “family”. You are earning a living on your own terms, presumably beholden to no one, and you are likely not exploiting others to horde more wealth than your “living” requires. To me, you are doing much better than the owners of this “family farm” and you SHOULD be proud.

This is so true. Run your neighbors out, then hire them back as serfs until the credit runs out!

I enjoy reading your blog posts.

I read a book of yours over the winter and decided my hillsides sown to a proprietary 3-way multi-floral rose/hedgeapple/fescue blend might be more suited to sheep than cows.
As a result you are thought of most days, and often, when the sheep are out, cussed.

Perhaps on some future cold day, you’ll feel your ears burning and wish to thank me.

Great point. We haven’t support real farmers nearly enough.

My neighbor quit farming and went to work for a big farmer. He says it is great, he gets a decent wage, benefits and some retirement, he still gets to farm, doesn’t have to fret about decisions, and he goes home at 5 pm every day. Except in times of real crisis.
From what I have observed around me, this is the exception rather than the rule.
I’ve asked him to put a good word in for me.

I was hoping this was going to be a happy story…. 😦

Most so called Big Time “Farmers” these days hire spraying done and hire out combining so all they do is plant mostly and do exactly what the ‘experts’ tell them to do so their knowledge of farming in general is very limited.Myself on my small farm I’ve been experimenting with a bunch of different ‘forgotten’ crops the last few years on several test plots.Some of these old crops are very interesting and useful including Buckwheat,Crimson
Clover,Sweet Yellow Clover,Velvet Beans,turnips for livestock feed,sorghum,open pollinated flint corn,
Small Burnet and a few more I can’t recall right now.There is light at the end of the tunnel though I think lots of formally city folks are really getting into the ag thing and doing all sort sorts of interesting stuff in my area

Whatever happened to the “anybody can be a farmer” program?

Bravo Gene! Oh the irony. I was raised on my grandparent’s small farm in the 70’s and 80’s. I went to college (OSU College of Ag) in the late 80’s and early 90’s and was taught that everything I learned from my grandfather was old fashioned and “wrong”. I was young and believed the experts of higher education. I was miserable in “agribusiness”, changed careers and now am a true contrary farmer. Oh how I wish I could go back and gather all of my grandfather’s knowledge and skills again. I may not have made as much money as I do with an off farm career……but I would be living in paradise. Who would not want that?

I am looking forward to your new book you mentioned in your last blog Gene……very curious.

I totally agree on your comments about production agriculture. I have seen it first hand many times. Keep up the good work.

I just took another look at your last post on investing in a 900000 acre farm and it seems we got you thinking on reprinting some of your old articles. I am telling you it would be a hit. Call it “The best of Gene”. I would buy it in a minute. I figure you can slow down when you hit 100!

Thank you for your work.

Well put! It seems any and all pay in the food industry is kept low to keep food cheap so everybody can go into debt on mc mansions, cars and trucks that cost as much as houses. And plastic and/or electronic goodies that will fall out of fashion or become obselete before they are paid for, Plus the fact that the new farm equipment is getting so much electronics that the normal farmer himself wont have a clue as how to fix it.Everybody wants to hire a phd at walmart wages.1 lol

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