Just watched a very well done YouTube video of the finances of a modern farm.
Illuminating, and concerning. What it tells me is that it is not only very hard for an established farmer to even break even, but it is well nigh impossible for a newcomer to break into farming.
However, I am coming into this from a different angle. My perspective is that the problem is in the middle. The North American food business has inserted itself into the supply chain with an ever increasing portion of the take, while farmers get less and less of what people pay at the grocery. We used to buy a modest selection of whole, raw foods (meat, potatoes, veggies etc), and cook our dinner. The farmer would be supplying the actual raw ingredients that you eat. The middlemen would be wholesalers, packagers, distributors and then your local grocers.
Today, we eat a lot of processed food. A long list of raw ingredients (but principally corn by bulk) is fed into one end, and a variety of quick to prepare or ready to eat “foods” are then prepackaged and sold in grocery stores. Major corporations combining these inputs are making the lion’s share of the profits, leaving farmers with the same prices per bushel that they received in the 1980s, but with costs that are 5 - 10x higher.
That said, the pendulum is already swinging, with the appetite for whole foods returning in middle class circles. It is entirely possible to profit as a farmer, but only if one can sell retail. If I can receive the prices you pay at your grocery store, I can profit. That means I must grow what you want (hint - it isn’t 100s of bushels of corn). I am not alone in suggesting that farmers can profit by shifting their business dynamic. Local produce in Eastern Townships. Farm to table agriculture is not only sustainable and chique. It is also profitable.
The other thing I think that can improve any small farmer’s bottom line, is mixed farming. Not fashionable anymore, it was once the most common sort of farm. Some crops, and some animals. The thing is, animals produce a lot of what plants need. Manure is an excellent soil ammendment, and we eat a lot of meat anyway. Now sure, tastes are changing, and the amount of meat is being reduced, but I see a definite place for organic, humanely raised, high priced specialty meats. Things like heritage pork, game birds (guineau fowl, pheasant), Grass fed beef. Even free range eggs. The small selection of animals on my own 30 acres is enough to provide manure for a substantial cottage garden. I intend to enlarge my flocks and use a spreader on my hay fields to improve their yields next year. A well kept pasture is a carbon sink as well as the sustenance for meat and dairy animals.