Off-farm income holds family farms together

Ranchers and farmers don't stop. You know who else doesn’t stop? The one who works off-farm to bring home a consistent paycheck and provide benefits for the family and then returns home after a long day to contribute to the farm or ranch in other ways.

Iconic images of farmers and ranchers staged in beautiful landscapes portray a romanticized view of the essential work of agriculture. The problem with those dreamy images is they fail to represent the risk, heartache, depth of knowledge, resourcefulness, perseverance, patience and care at the heart of a farmer or rancher. Who is an essential worker on a farm or ranch?

Approximately 97% of U.S. farms are family-owned — yet half of those operations could be experiencing economic downfall and turmoil. The family farm isn’t a cornerstone of American culture that couldn’t disappear — it’s on shaky ground. The family farm is strained and experiencing tumultuous markets, weather events and trade wars.

However, with off-farm jobs and careers, essential workers on farms or ranches can keep their dream and legacy alive.

According to a Feb. 2020 report by USDA’s Economic Research Service: “In recent years, roughly half of farm households have had negative farm income each year. As a result, many of these households rely on off-farm income — and median off-farm income is forecast to increase each year, up 2.2 to $67,314 in 2019 and up 1.9% to reach $68,589 in 2020 …”

Farmers’ and ranchers’ work never end. Livestock needs to be cared for, managed and marketed. Hay and forage needs to be planted, cut and baled. Crops need to be planted, scouted, sprayed, harvested and marketed. Agriculture never stops — and neither do farmers and ranchers, even when they aren’t making a profit.

You know who else doesn’t stop? The one who works off-farm to bring home a consistent paycheck and provide benefits for the family and then returns home after a long day to contribute to the farm or ranch in other ways. Or maybe that person isn’t just one individual, it’s a couple, who both work off-farm to make their way of life possible. Some couples share the load by one of them holding down the home front as the primary caregiver for the kids while the other works in town during the day and looks forward to working as a family on the farm in the evenings and on weekends.

Your way of juggling off- and on-farms jobs might look different than your neighbors or someone on social media. Diversifying the farm with an additional income stream is the duct tape holding it all together in these economically difficult days.

If you know an essential worker providing off-farm income, share your words of appreciation, especially if they’re your spouse, daughter, son, daughter-in-law or son-in-law. Write a note of appreciation to the farmer-neighbor who works night shifts at the nursing home, to the bank employee you see at the drive-through and to the grocery store worker stocking the shelves. Say thank you to the teacher who tends to their herd of cattle after a long day in the classroom (or distance learning teaching) and the accountant or pharmacist who farms nights and weekends.

I see and recognize all the essential workers in agriculture and rural America who set the standard for work ethic and drive in hopes of better economic days ahead. Keep going in your essential work and know you are appreciated, by those near and far from your farms.

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