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Re: E-M:/ Tragic loss of family farm to a mega-dairy

Enviro-Mich message from "William Tobler" <WilliamTobler@CrittersWoods.org>

I think we may not be disagreeing here.  I did not mean for my comments to
be interpreted that because a farmer chooses to incorporate for various
legal or tax reasons, that he is necessarily a "slob" or is evil.  I
personally believe that farms are overtaxed, especially in Michigan.  Nor do
I disagree with your statement that 800 acres is not really that large.  I
am aware that a corn-soybean farmer would typically have to that large or
larger in order to make a decent income for his family.

However, as the farm becomes "much" bigger than this, the picture begins to
change in my mind.  At some point, the farm is becoming bigger than the
immediate family can manage themselves, and additional employees are taken
on-board to handle the extra workload.  At this point, the "family farm" is
losing its "sentimental aura" in my eyes, even though it may indeed be owned
by one family.  At some point, the patriarch farmer is sitting behind a desk
managing a business, rather than personally farming.  Now this is not
necessarily evil either, it just progressively loses my special sentiments
willing to create special subsidies to save the "family farm".  If we want
to save the "corporate farm" too, then let's call it that.

In all cases, I am not willing to condone practices that border on filth,
disease and injury, either to the farm animals or to the environment beyond
the owner's property.  There is probably no question that intensive feedlots
make more profits, or allow lower production costs.  However, as a consumer
and as a citizen one has to make choices between a cheaper pricetag and the
"total cost", where total cost includes some value to the environment and to
one's sensibilities.

Hence we have automotive emissions regulations that drive up the price of a
car, but presumably with a benefit in air quality to us all.  And many other
similar examples.

The old fashioned traditional family farm got by thru its diversity.  Many
different crops were involved supported by a variety of livestock
operations.  Land rotations were used to control weeds, disease and the need
for many external inputs, and this "rotation" included the livestock
operations.  In the quest for efficiencies and simplicity, operations
trended towards monocropping and intensive operations.  Yes, it's cheaper.
But there are other costs, and at some point these costs become
unacceptable, at least to me.  The more the intense the operation, the more
likely it trends towards the "slob" factor.

Part of the problem is that smaller operations are taxed to death.  I
haven't looked at it in years, but at one time it was not easily possible to
mix farm income with off-farm income as far as offsetting off-farm income
taxes with farm losses.  The small full time farmer gets to play some very
necessary accounting practices that become unavailable to the part-time
farmer.  "Hobby" farming is not necessarily bad, it's just another variation
upon the diversification story above.

I don't agree that the "family farm as it has been viewed doesn't exist
anymore".  Admittedly it is becoming scarcer for the above mentioned
reasons.  Regardless, when we are talking about "saving the family farm", it
is this kind of operation that comes to my mind.  If you want to talk about
saving "American Agribusiness", then that's another discussion altogether.
But one thing for sure, I am NOT interested in spending my tax dollars to
increase the wealth of wannabe land developers that are calling themselves
family farm owners.  Nor am I willing to condone any kind of operation where
filth and disease is the rule rather than exception, regardless of anything.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Grant Trigger" <GTrigger@honigman.com>
To: <WilliamTobler@CrittersWoods.org>; <enviro-mich@great-lakes.net>
Sent: Friday, May 03, 2002 12:38 PM
Subject: Re: E-M:/ Tragic loss of family farm to a mega-dairy

> Bill
> Until the end most of what you said is right on - the size of a farm can
look corporate without being corporate and a farmer who does it right does
not hide behind the "hat"  My brother farms 800 acres and had to borrow
money this spring to buy fertilizer and seed.  Just because a farm is
generating pollution does not excuse it - but my concern is too broad a
brush the other way - lets not make all farmers appear guilty just because
they have a large operation - and frankly 800 acres really is not large any
more.  I suggest those in this debate drive up M-53 through Imlay City
toward Bad Axe and count the number of closed animal feedlots - they cannot
make any money so they close - the only ones who can make any money are
large - or animal feed operations are nothing more than a hobby - So how do
we support farming with good agricultural practices and avoid these
problems?  And finally the "family farm" as it has been viewed does not
exist anymore - a small operation that everyone has a part in - the bills c
> >>> "William Tobler" <WilliamTobler@CrittersWoods.org> 05/02/02 10:14PM
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Enviro-Mich message from "William Tobler"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Admittedly, American farming is difficult these days.  Prices are low and
> expenses high.  Politicians and lawyers have created an estate planning
> situation that is difficult for the average person to understand, or
> negotiate without purchasing expensive services back from politicians and
> lawyers, often too late.  Why should it be nearly impossible for the
> farm to be passed on to successive generations in order to maintain a
> successful farm?  Apparently it was difficult, even for Grant.
> I have a love of the family farm and of the "country and small town life".
> I believe that the family farm is being decimated by taxes, growth, and
> regulation.  I am all for quickly seeking solutions for these dilemmas.
> However, as the "family" farm becomes larger and larger, it begins to lose
> its aura as it becomes a corporation.  The love affair is gone as
> profits at any expense become the quest.  The love affair is gone as the
> concept of cattle grazing in a pasture is replaced by filthy feedlots
> with manure and with sick and injured livestock living in horrible
> conditions.  Do I want to subsidize these operations with my dollars?  Not
> chance.
> The patriarch of the family farm can be a model conservationist, and to
> as a goal to pass on his heritage to his family.  The owner of the
> farm is looking at the bottom line of the ledger sheet and rarely looks
> beyond next year (in my opinion).  A farmer CAN be a conservationist, but
> doesn't follow that a farmer IS a conservationist.  I resent the notion
> if one wears a farmers cap, that he MUST be a conservationist and a great
> guy.
> I know differently, because I have plenty of examples around me.
> It might be one thing if a "farmer" operated a feedlot and contained the
> filth, disease and poison upon his own property.  It is quite another
> when this "farmer" allows this to flow into streams, leach into wells,
> up the air, and contaminate and destroy nature well off his land.  I
> the notion that he should be allowed to hide behind his farmer's badge as
> symbol to make this behavior acceptable.
> It doesn't follow that a financially successful farmer is a good farmer.
> Nor does it follow that a good farmer is financially poor (but perhaps
> this is closer to the truth).  It is interesting and instructive to pull
> of the internet the dollar subsidies obtained from the government to each
> farm, and then relate each farm to its owner, and then determine the
> political "activities" of each owner.  In SE Michigan, it is not pretty
> you learn from this.  Many millions of dollars in subsidies are going to
> help strengthen the development "rights" of these wannabe snowbirds, in
> name of preserving farms (what a farce).
> I am all for developing the "environment" to promote the survival of
> and countryside, but not at the expense of pollution, poison and
> and making rich snowbirds.
> Quite frankly the following statement rings very hollow to me:  "we just
> have different ideas as to how best to achieve truely environmentally
> beneficial results, that can be economically viable, and consistent with
> rights and freedoms of the citizens of this great country."  It smacks of
> the current DEQ motto, which is a resounding failure.  Economic viability
> used over and over again as an excuse to be a sloppy polluter.  Viability
> confused with dollars and more dollars.  Dollars are put first, second and
> third, and common sense environment and social justice is put last.
> I often wonder how Ken and Grant go home at night after a busy day of
> successfully defending slob corporations (I'm not saying that corporations
> must be slobs), getting them off the hook for any meaningful remediation,
> and then look at themselves in the mirror and reflect upon their
> environmental sensitivity.  Deeds speak louder than words.  Admittedly,
> there is not much profit in being an environmental good guy.  But please,
> don't expect us to forgive your daily deeds because you cough up an annual
> membership fee to the Sierra Club.
> Accused criminals deserve a good legal defense to obtain justice.  Do true
> murderers deserve freedom because your lawyer is better than my lawyer?
> it justice that we want, or a game?
> I'm not too keen on preserving the rare 3 eyed mosquito.  I DO want a
> place to live.  However, this is inconsistent with the slob corporations
> the slob farms being defended here.

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