The Challenge: Transitioning to Sustainable AgrigultureLouisiana family farmers are part of an agricultural system of family farms across the United States. Farm families and their rural communities are undergoing gigantic changes. Nationally, in the past 40 years, family farms have declined by more than 4 million -- or about 64 percent. In Louisiana in only a 15-year period from 1982 to 1997, family farms declined by almost 8,000 acres or 25 percent.Farm acreage declined by almost 12 percent during the same 15-year period in Louisiana.
Row crop farms have not been sustainable. Many of the failed practices and policies have been handed down by land grant universities and federal legislation. National policy favors "bigger is better" and production over people and rural communities. As these row crop family farms are forced out, large corporate agriculture and other kinds of development will replace the economy of a family farm system and a distinct rural culture. Lastly, and no less importantly, our land and our food system will be by a few conglomerate food companies.
SMHA's statewide strategy to transition to sustainable agriculture with row crop farmers is carried out by partnering with certain Louisiana nonprofits, universities and environmental groups, small vegetable/fruit and organic farmers, direct markets and grass roots citizenry. Simultaneously, SMHA works regionally and nationally with partner nonprofits and farm families to shape policies and practices designed to stem the demise of family farms and rural agricultural communities -- practices and policies that look at such ideas as promoting community supported agriculture, developing value-added products, and advocating for policies that reward sustainable farming practices.
Some of the Challenges Facing Sugar Cane Farm Families
- Non-ownership of most of their farm land and year-to-year leases which force them to compete on an annual basis with other farmers and developers for farm land. Sugarcane farmers lease about 80 percent of the land they farm.
- Loss of prime agricultural land especially to residential development, highway systems and recreation, and to industrial development that often pollutes and destroys land.
- Limited access to affordable capital for farming, especially where innovative and new methods are at stake.
- National farm policy that encourages "get big or get out"
- Development of large, corporate farming -- contract agriculture.
- World markets that further reduce the profitability of farm produce, particularly of row crop produce.
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