published on July 25, 2022 - 1:58 PM
Written by Paul Betancourt

There is a real effort to make farming more corporate and bureaucratic. Every year there are more forms to fill out and meetings to attend. Let’s look down the road.

8:30 a.m. — Arrive at work; daily staff meeting and orientation.

9 a.m. — Service tractor and safety check; check reports and memos from Sacramento and D.C.; fill out forms and memos from Sacramento and D.C.

9:30 a.m. — Arrive in field

10 a.m. — Break, return to shop to punch out on time clock

10:30 a.m. — Return to field

Noon— Lunch break (30 minutes), return to shop to punch out

1 p.m. — Return to field

2 p.m. — Quarterly training session

3 p.m. — Break

3:30 p.m. — Return to field

4:45 p.m. — Return to shop and clock out

So, what was a 12-hour day with an effective 11 hours in the field is reduced to an 8-hour day with 4 1/2 hours of effective work.

Is this the future of farming?

Now, some of you may think these kinds of memos and meetings are normal. I question that. As a farmer, I get paid to produce things, not go to meetings and fill out forms.

It is a question of ends and means. Producing goods and services are the ends. Memos and meetings are means to those ends. If production takes second place, we are going to have a problem.

Modern economics are based on increasing efficiency. We are not increasing efficiency or productivity. Our computers and phones have become easier to use AND cheaper. Government regulations have become burdensome and expensive.

I was reading a novel lately set in Navajo country and one character in the story complained about “the rising tide of bureaucracy.” So, apparently it is not just me. The problem is we are just layering regulations on regulations. When does it end?

Left unchecked things will just bog down and we will be filling out endless forms, going to endless meetings and not producing anything. Some people might think that is a good thing. But somebody somewhere has to produce some goods or services along the way.

The Europeans and Japanese help their producers. I think part of that is rooted in the fact there are still a few people left who went hungry during WWII and did not like it. I am NOT suggesting subsidies. (As a fiscal conservative, I am comfortable letting the free market works things out.) Neither am I suggesting that we have unfettered capitalism. No one is suggesting that. We have not had pure capitalism since at least the presidency of Andrew Jackson. (We can discuss this another time.)

What I am suggesting is that we get the ends and means in proper order. Are you worried about climate change? Fine, let’s work out a solution. It will take some real bench science and not just the passing of bills and regulations.

Did you ever notice that farming under socialism does not do well? Farming is inherently entrepreneurial. It takes a certain kind of person to take those risks. That kind of person is not inherently bureaucratic.

A lawyer friend pointed out to me one time how risky farming is. We plant a crop not knowing what the price or yield will be. We work long hours all year and hope it works out. I thought about it. Seemed normal to me. But he was right — that is risky, and perhaps a little crazy.

I get it. There is more to life than making a buck. There are problems out there that need to be solved. I hope we solve them without crushing that entrepreneurial spirit under a bureaucratic mindset. A U.S. Department of Farming, run like the DMV, will not be good for farmers or consumers.

Farmer, writer and educator, Betancourt is a lecturer at Fresno State and written books on Swiss political history and environmental policy.

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