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FarmsReach Team  |  FarmsReach  |  Berkeley, CA

Subject: Minimum wage & farm viability

The recent posts in our Classifieds about minimum wage reflect the unfortunate truths for both hiring farms and farm workers. For some farms, it can be tough to break even paying just minimum wage, while, for farm workers, minimum wage is hardly a living wage.

There are obviously no easy answers, but it’s clear that farm operators must somehow find ways to maximize production and efficiencies with less human power.

Below are some resources as practical guidance or simply food for thought. Please feel free to share other resources you think folks may be interested in!

Note: Reactionary posts from Classifieds were removed.

In Topics Business & Financial Planning, Staff, HR & Worker Safety, Beginning Farmers & Ranchers

In General FarmsReach community

Comments 9
05/14/18
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

Also: in most parts of the world, farm sizes are 3-7 acres and they can’t afford 100k worth of tractors. There is severe drought and/or depleted soils. Climate change is literally changing landscapes and industrializion has dried up aquifers. And a desperate lack of people interested in farming because there is no safety net like in the USA. We can’t deny innovation by imagining that the rest of the world lives like us or grows food like us. Innovating and automating food production and farming for smaller farms will be truly game changing at a global level.

05/16/18 6:05 PM
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

To Paul Underhill: thats why we grow more commodities than crops. In CA, Ag is the only sector that hasn’t increased in value to add to the gross hike in GDP.

In my mind ..To show resistance to tech in small farms is to either lie down and die a slow death or continue to condone exploitative practices or support unsustainable financial practices for farmers. It is the death of small farms and everything it stands for..

everyone understands that mechanization and automation has taken over large farms. I recently went to a farmer/roboticist meeting organised by Silicon Valley robotics and western growers innovation group..Driscoll was there as was Bowles farm and Uesugi ...speciality crops and produce are not commodities like corn and soy. Is 6000 acres a small farm? http://Well.they consider themselves ‘small’.that ‘small farm’ is struggling with the costs of labour and availability ..not to

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05/15/18 4:43 PM
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  |  Ananda Valley Farm  |  Half Moon Bay, CA commented

Interesting to think if there will be a place for small farms in the far future.

Personally I think there will be a growing niche for people who truly appreciate and will pay for well grown, just-picked vegetables. And those will need to be provided by smaller local farms. For myself I will not even buy salad mixes in the store, since while they look good, they taste lifeless to me after being nitrogen-packed and probably been a couple weeks or more from harvest. But the cut salad greens from the farmers market taste very alive and vital in comparison. For me it is the same for most vegetables. Our CSA goes from harvest to home within 24 hours. The vegetables do taste much better and whenever we've done comparisons with store bought ones, people remark at what a difference it is.

The problem is most people don't realize it until you do a side by side comparison. And today very few people will pay

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05/14/18 9:57 PM
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  |  Terra Firma Farm  |  Winters, CA commented

I drove for 10 miles today through an area of farmland where all the crops are tended and harvested mechanically. Technology has rarely benefited small farms. It is capital intensive and works best when used in combination with highly specialized cropping systems. Most ag in the US and California is already highly automated using 20th century technology and that automation will lend itself readily to 21st century tech. Crops that cannot be easily mechanized have already had most of their production shift to low-wage countries.

These are clear, well-established and documented trends. The fact that farmers are getting older and retiring does not and never has meant that there is a huge demand for more small farmers.

05/14/18 6:23 PM, updated
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

It’s remarkable..that imported food is competing with local strawberries in Davis. Strawberries are the most labour intensive to pick.

there is NO easy solutiob. Take this article for example: https://theaggie.org/2018/04/24/the-smart-farm-initiative-the-future-of-precision-agriculture/

there are a couple of things the need clarity. If manual labour in the fields being paid minimum wage is unacceptable in ca..how are stem educated college kids going to do the same thing for less than competitive wages? Something’s got to give..esp while competing with imported food. So..are people willing to pay more for local food? Buying from Whole Foods doesn’t count because they are the price makers. Farmers are the price takers.

There was another article recently that said that for every dollar of food/produce sold, the farmer gets 7.6 cents. Let that sink in.

there is yet another article that mentions

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05/14/18 5:53 PM
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  |  Center for Land-Based Learning  |  Winters, CA commented

"If we truly want our food to be high quality and we hopefully agree to somehow support the youth who many times are willing to take the place of the aging farmers, then it is imperative that we find a way to do both: continue to eat good healthy food and support young farmers and young farm workers." -- Yes, and while there are a few factors, one of the critical ones is how much consumers are willing/can afford to pay for this "high quality food". There's a disconnect in most consumer's minds between the price of their food and living wages for farm workers. It's easier to just put the responsibility on the farmer to figure it out. Farmers are getting squeezed by low prices on one side (btw, farmers are getting the same average price for vegetables that they were getting 30 years ago) and minimum wage hikes on the other (not to mention new ag overtime laws). We (the USA) also import more of our organic

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05/14/18 8:55 AM
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

to Hogue: wages must be driven by market forces. Not honor. There are lofty ideals and then there is math. It’s ok to not always drive a business for profit but goal/purpose must be clearly defined and acknowledge. It’s like the diff between sherpas who carry backpacks in the Himalayas and adventure seekers who want to scale Everest. Both of them are mountaineers but they are not the same. Young people must be oriented and encouraged to explore and discover uses for sophisticated *future* oriented tech.

05/14/18 8:34 AM
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  |  Hogue  |  Benicia, CA commented

ok, I agree that we are not honoring young people that for one; want to work, want to work at something that they have a passion for, and have the financial ability to buy some necessary commodities at least part of the time. How is it that we all (most of us anyway) like to eat everyday and many of us want the high quality food that many small farmers are willing to grow and sell, and yet in spite of this seemingly important daily activity, we can't find a way to honor the youth of our culture that want to farm and also eat and buy toothpaste. We hear all the time about the aging American farmers and who will take their place on the farms. If we truly want our food to be high quality and we hopefully agree to somehow support the youth who many times are willing to take the place of the aging farmers, then it is imperative that we find a way to do both: continue to eat good healthy food and support young farmers and young farm workers. What do you imagine is the alternative?

05/14/18 7:46 AM
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  |  Jellicles Farm  |  Sunol , CA commented

It is entirely unviable. It is morally wrong to send young people into a situation where they will fail in the long run. We are moving towards automation even in larger farms. Investment and research into robotics and automation for smallholder farms is more crucial now than ever. I have faced everything ranging from scorn to amusement. But very little in terms of understanding what this means to small farms in California. Every investor or VC I have chatted with informally or off record wants to know what will the payoff be on the investment and I always stumble at that point because I don’t think there is any interest in adoption. I predict that farming will cosolidate into large assembly line automated food producing conglomerates ..with the unfortunate side effect of the destruction of diversity and integrity of everything from soil to seed. Unless diversified and small speciality crop farming practices are helped and aided with technology, automation and robotics. My 2c.

05/14/18 6:37 AM

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