An expert on food economies says farming is just not paying off for producers and consumers, and encouraging people to "buy local" may be the best hope for the industry.
Ken Meter is the president of the Minneapolis-based Crossroads Resource Center, and has studied food economy regions in 20 states. Meter recently studied southwest Wisconsin's four-county region of Monroe, Crawford, Richland, and Vernon Counties. He says farmers in those areas are producing an average $404 million worth of commodities each year, at a cost of $434 million each year.
Meter says the emphasis on more "efficient" operations is playing out the same way across the country. Farmers are doing worse and worse, even with government subsidies. He says farm families are surviving by taking an off-the-farm job to support their "habit" of farming. Meter says the combination of farm losses, inputs bought elsewhere, and consumer spending leaving the region adds up.
Meter says that points to the good news though; if everyone in the region bought 25-percent of their food from local farms, it would amount to $33 million a year. That would be enough to offset the current losses. Meter says considering this, and the state of the overall economy, local food networks may be the solution to keeping farms alive.
Meter says it's a choice of paying cash for commodities or investing in communities.