Thursday, July 17, 2008

A High Failure Rate

A slightly late post today. We were at my Uncle's last night and my wife convinced me (not that difficult really) that since we were at the farm everyday now with the pigs and the building we should have some chickens. Sooo..... I spent extra time at the farm this morning fixing up our chicken pen and getting them sort of settled. I'll have to do a little more work to get everything in tip-top shape again (since we haven't used it for a while), but we should have eggs pretty soon. Also, we still have five chickens at my Dad's ... we will bring them back up once we are out there during the day and evening so we can let them roam during the day.

Now, back to the Allan Nation column that I began writing about on Monday...
"The start-from-scratch career path now has a failure rate similar to professional sports. Farming's problem with kids today is we don't tell them the truth."
That is what Mr. Nation reports John W. Phipps (of Top Producer Magazine) has to say about today's state of farming in the United States. But, Mr. Phipps doesn't believe that it is totally hopeless for the young farmers of today. He believes there is a place for them in "agrarian agriculture". That is the term he used, and I'm not too sure I like it ... but, oh well ...

Anyways, this agrarian agriculture that he is talking about is exactly what this blog and so many that read this blog are all about. Mr. Phipps defines agrarian agriculture as, "Producing for a market that values how a commodity is created (organic, local, free-range, etc.), is labor intensive and sensitive to public perception." Of course that is something that many who read this blog already know, but it is always great to hear this type of thinking from a "top producer".

Maybe the tide is turning? What are your thoughts?


Anonymous said...

It has to change. I just don't see how it can keep going the way it is now. Something has to give.

Congrats on the upcoming farmhand!

And great job on the slab. Watching your progress gave me the inspiration to rebuild our pole barn garage so that I can have a heated garage this winter.

JRGidaho said...

If we think about the basic 80:20 principle...

80% of the American population is going to buy food based on price. Quality, environmental sustainability, social justice will never be considerations for these people. There will always be a place for multi-national corporations to produce the food and Wal-Mart to sell it. Most of agriculture will continue to support that model.

The other 20% of the population will adjust their buying habits for reasons of food quality & safety, environmental concern, and/or social justice. Those 20% can support a huge number of small, local farmers. Right now most consumer surveys show 'local' is the most powerful word to have on your label.

I would like to believe in 10-20 years, the 20% of concerned citizens will grow to a larger percentage. The more we do to tell the story of sustainable, local 'agrarian' agriculture at every possible venue we can, the greater the likelihood that 20% will grow to become a majority.

mhcs said...

What did he cite as the causes of this high failure rate (I'm assuming this refers to people who try to start farms from scratch and end up folding within a few years, for whatever reason)?

Back in the 70s there were a lot of back-to-the-landers who became back-to-the-cityers in pretty short order. I think it was because most of them did it for romantic reasons and didn't really have any hands-on skills. Sooooo I'm trying to learn how to do fencing and fix things while we still have 5 years to get ready.... hopefully it works. : )

I'd love to hear more about the specifics of people's business problems, in the interest of not repeating history...

Rich said...

Mellifera said, "...What did he cite as the causes of this high failure rate (I'm assuming this refers to people who try to start farms from scratch and end up folding within a few years, for whatever reason)?..."

It can take a few years (usually more) just to get everything setup and running smoothly on a farm. If people believe that they are going to be hugely profitable in a couple of years they might get discouraged and quit right before the profitable stage starts.

In the beginning, when buying and/or gathering all the equipment, tools, and livestock necessary (and sometimes not even remotely necessary) it seems like you are bleeding money with no possibility of ever recovering any of your expenditures. But if you are patient, as soon as your land is close to being fully stocked with livestock and your equipment has been "paid" for, (in either money or time saved) the profitable stage will begin.

As long as the temptation to go into further debt is avoided, you grow as much of your feed and seed as you can, and you do as much work as you can yourself, the profitable stage should continue.

On another related note, after reading the statement,

"...The start-from-scratch career path now has a failure rate similar to professional sports..."

I seriously doubt if the odds of success are that low. What are the odds of having a professional sports career? 10,000:1? 1,000,000:1? I would think that the odds of succeeding would be closer to 15% or 20%, still low but not as dismal as 1 in a million.

Anonymous said...


Just stumbled across your site today, and wanted to leave a note of appreciation

I myself am a young Christian (is 26 still young?) who has been researching and desiring to move towards the farming/homesteading life.

I have been able to read much of your blog, and will continue to try and do so as time permits.

I was particilarly curious as this post, and still often wonder if my goals are achievable. Time will tell. Thanks for all the info.

Lance Williams

Steven said...

Join the club Lance. I'm also, 26 and dreaming about farming while I sit at a desk job.

Yeoman said...


I'm 45, and have been trying to move full time into agriculture for the past 13 years. Got a late start as I didn't think I'd be able to do it. I had just started my office job, which I'm still doing, when I was your age.

Seems like yesterday.

Bro. Williams said...


It would be nice if there was some kind of official club, at least then it might not seem like I am feeling in the dark so much.

I too am fastened securely to an office job, for the moment. Fortunately, I am about to start teaching again and will therefore have some more time to devote to this idea.

Currently I own two acres, and rent a home on 8, so there is potential in regards to having some area to learn to do things. Thus far though, we have only had the capital, time, and initiative to grow a garden, start a compost pile, buy three rabbits (one is already deceased), and buy several books which I am trying to get through (and of which I am trying to remember the endless information from).

There certainly is a lot to remember and learn.

Oh well, if nothing else, I can retire at 48 and start then I guess.

Lance Williams

mhcs said...


26 is plenty young (at least for farmers ; ). Just had my 25th birthday, we're at least 5 years away from owning any land, and I'll be darned if I'm only a year away from "old" already! Noooo! It's not too late!

...For that matter, according to national stats Yeoman is still too young to be a real farmer....

Yeoman said...


25 isn't too old. I'm hoping 45 isn't. But at that, I've pretty much determined not to give up, even if I'm 65 and still haven't made it.

I don't anyone to follow my advice, as I'm no example of wise planning. But for me, where I live, in retrospect, if I could have, I wish I had tried to jump whole hog into raising cattle back when I was 18. At the time, I was a very realistic fellow and thought I wouldn't be able to make it. So, I went to college, and then to law school, and all that jazz. The agricultural impulse, however, couldn't be resisted. I wish I'd just followed it then, and used my college money for that.

Don't follow my advice, however. That's advice that would have worked for me 27 years ago, but now probably wouldn't work so well.

Bro. Williams said...

Mellifera, and all-

It seems that a continual emphasis is persistance, of which I am aggrovatingly capable of (ask my wife, mother, coworkers, you get the idea). I also have a bit of obsessiveness to me, so, like others, I will try to keep on keeping on.

Rich said...

Yeoman said,
"...I wish I had tried to jump whole hog into raising cattle back when I was 18. At the time, I was a very realistic fellow and thought I wouldn't be able to make it..."

I don't think that you are alone in those thoughts, I'm close to your age and when I was in college, I commuted past fields full of cattle, wheat fields, and hay meadows, and almost every day wished I was doing that instead of heading to a claustrophobic classroom. I kept telling myself that I was going to make tons of money in my chosen profession (it never happened), and with that money I could afford to pursue my "true" interests in the future. I could have and should have just started out with some cattle (and a little wheat) and would have had more success in that profession (in more ways than simply monetary).

From my limited experience, one of the most difficult steps to starting a farm is actually deciding to start. It is easy to say and difficult to do, but the advice I would give anybody (for what it is worth) is 'sometimes you just have grit your teeth and jump'.

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