Government’s Role in Farming
Because of the technological advances over the last 150 years, farms can produce in much higher quantities than was once possible. During the early 1900s (and before), farm families were often quite large simply because farmers needed the labor of their children to keep up with demand.
Today, tractors, combines, and other equipment make it possible for a single farmer to not only produce enough for his family to eat, but also produce mass qualities of food to sell.
Farm products, however, are commodities. No one farmer can influence the price of the product on a national level because everyone’s output is lumped together for the most part. Supply is much greater than demand for most products. After the Great Depression, prices for farmer’s product swung very low, so the government stepped in to help manage the farming industry and make it possible for farmers to earn a living in this business.
Most government support of the agricultural business comes in the form of subsidies. They are available to farmers who produce wheat, feed grains (like corn and barley), cotton, milk, tobacco, soybeans, sugar, rice, and a myriad of other crops. In general, subsidy programs guarantee a price for the items produced, even if the companies using these crops are paying a low price per pound. Corn is the most subsidized farm product in the United States, in part because of the interest in research of corn-based products as fuel.
So how does this affect you as an agricultural worker? Well, if you’re interested in some day owning your own farm business, it is important to realize your earning potential if your products are commodities. As a worker, it also makes sense as to which farms pay more to employees when you understand government subsidies.
The government, of course, plays other roles in agriculture as well. In fact, lobbyists in the food industry are some of the top-paid people in Washington. Seed control is something that is highly controversial, for instance. The courts decided that companies can own the rights to certain seeds, and this prevents farmers from saving their seeds every year (which in turn means that they have to purchase them every year). Food safety is another important area. The focus here is in the processing industry, but it also is important on farms. Employers will quickly fire those who don’t follow directions or take short cuts, since not following safety regulations could lead to the entire farm getting shut down or a batch of livestock or crops being unsellable.
Because the government has such a strong hand roll in farming, you can also look in this part of the industry for a job. Becoming a lobbyist or inspector is a great way to start, and you can also enter the industry working in a state agricultural department. Even if you start out as an intern or otherwise low on the totem pole, you can work up to upper-level positions where you actually help create policies that change the agricultural world.
JobMonkey has more information on working for the government if this kind of career interests you.