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The suicide rate for farmers in the U.S. is more than double that of veterans (www.theguardian.com)
317 points by liyanage 11 days ago | hide | past | web | 380 comments | favorite





I have family that farms in Iowa and I also worked in the agriculture industry there for a while after leaving the military. One thing that increases the stress on the farmers is the way they avoid income taxes at all costs so they rarely save any of the profits from good years to help them float during the bad years. This is all anecdotal but I have personally talked with several farmers that would rather buy new equipment they say do not even need than pay the taxes to take the money as income. This mindset causes them to experience a huge amount of stress every season. The farmers would talk about struggling, but have a brand new semi-tractor sitting in a barn unused 10 months out of the year.

>One thing that increases the stress on the farmers is the way they avoid income taxes at all costs so they rarely save any of the profits from good years to help them float during the bad years.

I'm from Iowa and a family member does lots of farm bankruptcies here. This is definitely a thing. Farmers buy new pickup trucks in lieu of showing a profit. Pair that in with land purchases at 7k+/acre and the saying "the neighbors land will never come up for sale again while I'm alive" and you've got a good mix for very high stress situations.


The concept of farmland being "for sale" at all seems bizarre. This isn't someone's home. Raw land is effectively always for sale, just contact the owner and make an unsolicited offer.

Is this just a psychological issue of people being attached to certain parcels or is there some other factor?


I'm guessing you didn't grow up on a farm.

There will always be some farmland effectively for sale; but there will also be other farmland which will never be for sale, no matter what the cost. The latter are generally "homeplaces", which have been in the family for generations. Heritage, blood, sweat, and years of hard work bind you to the soil, the land. It's more than an emotional attachment--it's almost spiritual, almost core identity.

It's an essential part of you and who you are.


It is amazing to see the effect of this in the wild - the land owns the people and it is basically impossible to sell. I have seen people who own land worth 10s of million of dollars live like paupers because they are so tied to the land.

I have wondered how much this effect is genetically built into us - there really is something different about how people view farmland compared to every other asset.


Farmland is essentially a complete livelihood, whereas other land is just a place to park a house.

Beautifully said.

You can make an unsolicited offer to homeowners too. In both cases, something being "not for sale" means the price should be higher because there are large transition costs with unexpected moves.

No way. Land has low carrying cost and people will sit on it for years to speculate or hold neighbors hostage.

Part of this is that a lot of states have agricultural exemptions or lower rates for farmland. Even if it's not effectively farmed. Or McMansions in the countryside exploiting the same law via what my dad called "Noah's Ark farms" (just two of every animal).

So yes, if you want to game the system and sit on land, there's little tax incentive to sell it.


In the UK this is doubly true, because you also receive your subsidy from the EU for owning that land. In fact in many ways farming it less efficiently gets you more as you can qualify for environmental uplifts for using less fertilizer and keeping bigger headlands and hedges.

In theory, does land appreciate at the risk-free rate? Or does holding land mean that you lose the opportunity cost of what you could have otherwise done with the money?

No, there is lots of risk in land, particularly if you borrow money to buy it!

People have different risk evaluation and time horizons. If you are sitting on a lot of capital, it’s a no brainer to buy land when financial bubbles pop and leveraged owners need to unload cheap.

Not only do you have a long term inflation hedge, but it’s real property, which means you can borrow against it to get cash without paying taxes via dividends or sale.

Iowa is great for investors like this because the whole state is just a big corn factory. The government tries to keep commodity prices less volatile, so you can project lease income with some precision using the value of corn.


> 7k+/acre

Assuming this is pure farm land (no premium for possible annexation or commercial development), is that not an absolutely batshit insane price? I'm no expert but that seems at least 4x what is reasonable.


That's land in the middle of nowhere. If you're near a city you can get a nice premium as the suburbs expand. 4x is a bit extreme (been a long time since it was that much). But it's expensive.

In the middle of nowhere there have been quite a number of land sales with $10k+/acre in the past handful of years.

Farmland prices have been kinda crazy over the last 5-10 years.

As a quick example of some math:

* Rent prices for farmland in Iowa [1] averaged $230/acre in 2016

* Yield per acre for corn is 203 in 2016

* Price per bushel averaged $9.27 [3]

Throwing averages into the mix, $1,882 revenue per acre. Without any expenses, farmers could be looking at >5 year time to break even at a 10k purchase price as opposed. Tons of farmers are paper millionaires simply because of the land they own. 100 acres of 10k land gets you there. 640 acres is 1 square mile (much of the state is on a 1x1 mile grid of gravel roads).

And of course I found most of the work already done after I found a bunch of sources. [4] has some more detailed numbers.

[1] http://dreamdirt.com/blog/2017-iowa-farmland-cash-rent-rates...

[2] https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/crops/pdf/a1-12.pdf

[3] https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/crops/pdf/a2-11.pdf

[4] https://www.extension.iastate.edu/agdm/crops/pdf/a1-20.pdf


Wow! I wish I could have gotten that price for my corn last year.

You quoted the price for beans, not corn. Corn averaged 3.40 over the year (currently, around $3.05 cash, not CBOT). That means it was about $640/acre for income. And that's assuming 203 bushels for all farmland. 180 is a better rule of thumb.

Of course, when a bag of seed corn is selling for $275-300+...not to mention input costs of equipment, fuel, fertilizer, labor (including yours), land (purchase or rent), etc...


Oh crap you're right! The price seemed high, but I grew up in the city so I don't track it much - just whenever I catch it on the local radio station.

The numbers were way better than I remembered, so I kept trying to figure out where the costs came in...I wasn't finding it.

Thanks for the correction.


As someone who obviously knows the business, what's your take on the price of land, based on historic prices and on economics?

That price per bushel is for soybeans, not corn. Soybean yields are much lower, like in the mid-50s to low 60s on average. The marketing year average price for corn in 2016 was $3.30. That cuts your revenue number to $670. With production expenses most farmers are lucky to break even right now.

What a strange world.....farmland prices in Canada are about a tenth of that, whereas if anything land prices for housing are typically at least double what they would be in the US (roughly adjusting for earning potential). Maybe we're just on opposite ends of a pendulum.

Canadian farmland has less potential value due to the reduced light and lower temperatures of the northern climate.

With rent at $230/ac and land prices at $7k+, it's about a 3% annual return. So it's more like 30+ years to break even.

Assuming the land doesn't appreciate further. (and we are pretty sure it won't depreciate to nothing)

The 7k price would be for good land with quality soil and a high Corn Suitability Rating. But yes, 7k+ is certainly normal for Iowa. (The surrounding midwest states like MN, ND, IL and WI would be lower - in the 1-4k/acre price)

There has been some land in Iowa which has still sold for $9-10K/acre this year. Very good CSR. But it's definitely not the norm anymore. $7-8.5k/acre seems to be the range.

I have family that own and operate farms in Kansas and Iowa, and that's pretty much on point. Good quality farmland pretty easily goes at $6k an acre, with really high quality riverland going for up to $10k.

It is high, but typical. With rent around $200 an acre, land only generates around 3% annual cash flow at that price. And even that rate is killing farmers right now.

There is a more pressing reason that has pushed farmers to continually buy new equipment. Farm credit services pressures farmers into this practice.

When giving out a loan for operations, a farmer's ability to pay is heavily weighted on farmers having newer equipment. The excuse that I have heard for the bank to do this, is that the bank can't easily tell which farmers take better care of their equipment, thus favoring the newer equipment across the board.

The agents working directly with the farmers advocate for this, as there are internal incentives for making larger loans.


What kind of logic is that?? In my mind, those with the oldest equipment must necessarily be taking care of it, because if you don't take care of it then it won't survive long enough to be old.

But on the other hand, I see people driving antique beaters and doubt they have the capability or interest to manage any maintenance.


It isn't just a mindset, it is supported by their accountant. Because of the way depreciation works their long term income is higher by buying new equipment than paying taxes.

The busiest week for farm equipment dealers is the week between Christmas and new years. That is when their account calls them and says trading in some machine would reduce their tax bill by more than the payments! Assuming the trade in value is high enough of course.

Farmers are businessmen running a real business. They understand how to use all the loopholes written for them.


But this is not necessarily a good thing. If you don't need a new truck, buying that truck is worse than paying the taxes and getting some profit. The truck will be sitting there unused and it cannot be resold for the full price paid.

Especially when the truck depreciates so much. That's several thousand right there.

Yes, two comments up mentioned deprecation. Maybe you're forgetting that you can offset deprecation in your taxes for the next year?

Deduction, not credit. Deductions aren't nothing, but they're just a percentage. Good if you're already going to spend the money, or if it's close. But spending a dollar to save a fraction of one can bite you.

Is it though? a new truck is going to be reliable and under warranty. A farmer cannot afford for his equipment to break. The truck being broke means that he cannot get fuel trailer to the equipment. That means that the tractors spend 2 hours every day driving back and forth to the fuel tanks on the farm to refuel - time that is not spent in the field. The truck being broke for just 2 days can cost the farmer more money than the entire cost of a new truck. (if storm wipes out any crop not harvested)

Maybe they don’t understand it so well if the end result is making less money... Every company could reduce taxes to zero by lowering prices and increasing costs, but somehow it doesn’t seem a good business plan in the long term.

Dumb question, as I am neither a farmer nor a businessperson, but is there a way for a farmer to set up, say, an LLC, which holds money from profitable years for use in unprofitable years, from which the farmer takes a steady salary each year?

LLC are pass-through entities. So, let's say you're a farmer, and you set up Farm, LLC, and then set up Profit, LLC. Profit LLC has to charge Farm LLC enough to eliminate the profits that Farm LLC generates. One way to do this is to have Profit LLC own the land, and Farm LLC pays Profit LLC a lease rate on the land that nicely eliminates the profit from Farm LLC.

This is all well and good, but now you've just shifted the profit to Profit LLC, and what to do with it there? If it's an LLC, whoever owns it has to pay income tax on it. So if you, the farmer, own Profit LLC, you're still paying taxes on it. If Farm LLC owns it, then the profit just goes back to Farm LLC, undoing the whole purpose.

So maybe you decide to make Profit LLC a C-Corp instead, so it's Profit, Inc., with the idea that now it's no longer a pass-through entity. But now you have to pay corporate income tax on it, even if you don't distribute it. Then, when you distribute it someday, you have to pay regular income tax on it again.

Some companies (such as Toys 'R Us) used to get around this by having "Profit LLC" be a company that owns the brand and licenses it to the retail company, to eliminate the retail company's profits. They then locate Profit LLC in a low/no-tax country such as the Cayman Islands. It's not clear how this would work for a farmer, however, because there's not really a brand to license, and any company that owned the land would still fall under US tax jurisdiction.


Interesting. I think it could be argued that some small-ish amount could be paid for the brand. Developing relationships with buyers is not an insignificant part of ranching and farmers, and you could probably justify that as a 10k/year expense.

(Not a lawyer, not a tax preparer.)


How do you pay income tax on income not received isn't that the point of having a company to allow it to build up reserves and don't US REITS work that way. Uk REITS and IT's certainly do

The US tax system is really insane some times


Corps have to pay taxes on profit.

Or you could just pay your goddamn taxes and have savings in the bank just like everybody else?

You mean just like everybody else but excluding big corporations and wealthy individuals?

Are you claiming that a majority of large corporations don't pay income taxes?

Is it even 5%?


It's above 95%. And the claim is not that they don't "pay income taxes" period, but that they don't pay their full income taxes based on actual income, using all kinds of legal, semilegal, and even illegal, schemes.

I think the claim might be something similar, but not quite that extreme. I don't think it strains credulity to think that the majority of large corporations take advantage of loopholes to drastically reduce their taxes.

There are ~20 huge companies each year that pay literally zero taxes [1] (that's for this year, you can go back and find a similar article every year). The lucky ones who manage to hit zero shuffle around every year. The rest of them pay various fractions of their tax rate. Corporate tax on large corporations as a proportion of the taxes collected is the smallest it has ever been in US history.

[1] https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-03-10/ten-thing...


Yes, that's what the parent means.

Savings!?!...pfft this is America. If you are not in debt how can you buy a house, send your kids to college, take care of the families medical expenses and buy everyone new iPhones for Christmas? Savings he says! What madness!

"Someone trying to live well would seem eccentrically abstemious in most of the US. That phenomenon is only going to become more pronounced. You can probably take it as a rule of thumb from now on that if people don't think you're weird, you're living badly."

Paul Graham, The Acceleration of Addictiveness


There are financial instruments for this, different insurances and such. Not an LLC exactly but there are ways to do it and there are products you can buy to do just that, annuities and different income yielding investments. If you’ve got issues with any form of taxes due to your culture, you’re not likely a good candidate or disciplined enough to accept these kinds of instruments. Fundamentally it means you have to make less during the great years to pay yourself during the bad years.

It has also been my observation that there is a sort of victim mentality that many farmers embrace, they can be legitimate multimillionaires but would rather be seen as poor and bullied by the banks, government and elites.


Almost all of the farms that I dealt with were incorporated.

Wouldn't that just make the overall tax burden worse? You'd have to pay corporate taxes on the farm profits, then pay income taxes on the salary.

An LLC doesn't pay corporate taxes. It just passes profits or losses to shareholders proportionally and are taxed at the individual level.

https://www.sba.gov/blogs/6-things-you-need-know-about-your-...


Getting extremely creative, one might run a surprisingly unprofitable farm, while paying one's self minimum wage to operate the farm, single-handedly.

Getting creative, of course... But you know, a legitimate business would never operate like this, right?

They wouldn't take such a "subjective" point of view, when interpreting what are typically held as "objective" values and facts with only one single interpretation of The Truth, right?

Oh, wait...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hollywood_accounting


I don't think so. I think LLC's allow one to pass through profits without double taxation. C corps, I believe, are the type that suffer from double taxation. Correct me if I am wrong though.

Salaries are a deductible expense for any business entity, so that money is never taxed twice by any reckoning.

The debate about double taxation of corporate profits relates to taxation of dividends, which are neither exempt nor deductible from a business' taxable income. Because shareholders are one and the same as the corporation according to some strains of legal and economic reasoning, by taxing dividends you've taxed the shareholders' profits twice.

If you control a corporation, you could achieve the same tax treatment as pass-through entities merely by paying yourself a salary instead of dividends. But if you did that, pass-through entities are easier because there are fewer formalities involved. The real gripe is that because dividends are taxed at a flat 15-20%, paying yourself in tax-preferred dividends is a tantalizing prospect but-for the supposed double taxation "problem".

The debate is admittedly a little more nuanced when discussing passive investments, but that's a different context than family farms.


You are correct. LLCs don't pay federal business income taxes. An LLC can retain earnings inside of the company but the members are still going to be taxed individually as if the earnings had been paid out to them. US S-corps work in a similar way: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employe...

No, because LLCs have to close their books every year and distribute any profits or losses to their members. You can't keep an untaxed rainy day fund in them.

Edit: Yes, I meant distribute for taxation purposes (K1 form), not actually transfer the funds


Not true at all. An LLC passes through these things for tax purposes only. Each owner is taxed on their pro-rata share of the business’ income offset by its losses, but the business doesn’t have to distribute anything at all. It’s common to distribute at least enough to cover those taxes but it’s never normally required by state or federal law.

Edit: you can’t keep an untaxed rainy day fund, that’s true. If you keep cash in the business from one year and use it on expenses the following, you deduct those expenses for the year they occurred. If that incurs a net operating loss you can carry that loss backwards or forwards if you want.


What if I take sell $100 product through LLC and book it as profit, pay taxes on it and after that, the customer files a chargeback. Where will the chargeback fees plus the original amount come from?

Your scenario seems implies that the original charge and the chargeback happen in different tax years, because if it was the same tax year, the chargeback would just invalidate the original charge.

In the cross-tax-year case, you pay the chargeback from the historical profits you have been booking from the LLC and book it as a business expense in the current tax year.

If you are running an LLC with zero cash backup to handle such situations, there could be a problem with the business model.


> The farmers would talk about struggling, but have a brand new semi-tractor sitting in a barn unused 10 months out of the year.

Your business having a illiquid depreciating asset that is required for the business to function can still be struggling. You can't eat a combine, you can't trade it away.

This is usually solved with coops owning the equipment and time sharing it to distribute the costs among the coop participants.

Farmers are indentured servants to the commodities markets, the land owner's they rent their land from, and John Deere.


I am not talking about a combine, I can understand the need for having your own combine during harvest. I am talking about a brand new fully optioned Peterbilt Semi-tractor, or buying a new pickup each year.

Having your own semi is very important during harvest: your combine will fill up in 15 minutes. That means every 15 minutes you need to unload it. 2 combines worth of grain is as much as your can haul in a semi (because of road weight restrictions). When the farmer is harvesting they don't want to stop: every delay is a chance that a storm latter will destroy the rest of the crop. Farmers often hard hauling to a elevator 20 minutes away where there is a 20 minute line to dump. As a result it isn't unusual for a farmer to need 2 semis for every combine.

Now you can rent semis, but it isn't cheap. For a farmer the rental company will look at it as a semi that won't be rented for 10 months so they charge for it.


At least for my family's farm in OK, a lot of the labor moves and takes the equipment with them. They move north to south with the season and the farm owners don't have to own as much equipment (in our case, none of us are farmers and haven't been for a few generations so a different situation). The farm manager still farms his own land, but he uses this same labor and their equipment with own a little of his own for tending during the growing season (the most labor and equipment intensive parts are harvest and planting).

Point being, the expensive equipment that is effectively being rented (with the labor in our case) isn't sitting idle most of the year. It's being used in different areas.


That is also a common way to do it. I know of farmers who own all their own equipment. I know of farmers who hire everything done. Both are very valid and correct ways to do things. There are different tradeoffs involved in both.

Tesla Semis owned by a coop would be killer for this use case, with charging facilities at the elevator. Very similar to the runs Tesla is going to use them for from their lithium evap pond partner in NV and the Gigafactory.

How does that solve the problem that "all the farmers" need it at the same time of year, and thus one shared one isn't enough? What makes a Tesla Semi notably better than a conventional one?

Funny fact, Tesla wanted to use a grain trailer at the presentation but couldn't find a pristine looking one.

Like clockwork.

Is this for philosophical reasons about taxes and government? Or is it just a big chunk of money they're trying to save?

I think if anything it can be traced to a fundamental misunderstanding about how fractions work (and less glibly, basic personal finance). Choosing to spend $150,000 on things you objectively do not need in order to not have to write a $30,000 check to the IRS and put $120,000 in the bank for next year is not a rational decision for all but the most extreme anti-government/anti-tax ideologies. It's the very definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

I agree with you that such a strategy is not optimal but it is not quite how you describe it to be.

In the mind of the farmer:

* $150,000 tractor: something that has value (not easy to calculate, but a $150k tractor has a value above zero, even if not brand new) and utility.

* $30,000 to the IRS: money that I will never see again. Literally thrown away money.

Option number 1 is very tempting.


The problem with that is that its only a $150,000 tractor until you drive it off the lot. I would be if the day after you bought it you are lucky if it is a $120,000 tractor.

Averseness to government is taxation is so engrained in some country it is almost genetic...and it leads to utterly bad thinking by individuals.


I suspect this isn't only averseness to taxation. Loss aversion is a well known human behavior, and when you have to write out a huge check to the government at the end of the year instead of having it taken out of your paycheck automatically, I could def see this kicking in pretty strongly.

Maybe we are not doing a good enough job of promoting civic duty, including payment of taxes? After all those taxes are used mostly for Medicare, Medicaid and the Military, all of which seem like worthy causes to pay for right? Not including State and Local taxes used for more immediate local functions, of course.

Tractors are not cars. While they do loose value by not being "new", the ratio is MUCH smaller than for cars.

They have an hour meter for a reason. This is really what people use to tell if it is new.


Of course, but then you've now got $30,000 in depreciation toward next year's taxes!

I wonder how they see taxes as thrown away? Yes, government is inefficient. And corrupt. But you do need roads. And bridges. And law enforcement. And even military protection, even if it seems far away and remote from your farm.

Not to mention $20 billion a year in farm subsidies.

Many rural areas in the US are heavily neglected; There are roads that haven't seen any upkeep in a decade and have police response times that are over an hour long. A lot of farmers feel that they pay into the system but get only a minuscule fraction back.

Aside from military protection, that is a list of things largely irrelevant to people who live in rural areas. It's money to be confiscated from them and used to prop up societies to which they have little to no connection.

>And even military protection, even if it seems far away and remote from your farm.

Not in the US, which is mostly the offender, and no country will ever attempt to attack it (domestically), even if US kept just 1/10 the military resources it has, unless provoked purposefully for months on end into doing so (e.g. Pearl Harbor).


If nothing else, it's probably that the benefit you get from the government does not depend on your tax burden. So the money they pay to the government has "zero" utility to them. Spending that money somewhere else, even if the utility is very low, would seem better.

One common feeling (i am from a farming community in Canada) is that tax revenue tends to get siphoned to urban areas.

Politicians focus on bigger voting blocks, while rural communities (in their mind) pay for those promises.


Did you see the thread here literally yesterday about taxes becoming higher for upper-middle class earners in blue states? Why didn't they get asked why they don't want roads?

I feel like this comes up any time someone does something to avoid paying taxes, as if that necessarily means they want no government at all. They (the farmers) will see no appreciable difference whether they pay the tax or buy the tractor, so they choose the tractor. That doesn't mean they don't want roads.


In the same way that people buys online (or in the neighbouring state) and “forgets” to pay sales tax. It’s better to keep the money.

I think they just simply think "how can I minimize what I pay in taxes". They might think of police, roads, etc but that's after they finish thinking about themselves and their own accounting. So it means pretty much they never think of it.

But those things were all there back when this hypothetical farmer wasn't making any money. Tragedy of the commons, perhaps.

I know people who do the same thing with charitable donations. They donate to an organization because they "need the tax deduction". Despite that they'd have more money in their pocket if they just didn't make the donation in the first place.

When most people bring up tax deductions in casual settings it's pretty obvious pretty quickly that they don't really know what a tax deduction is. And the odds quickly approach 1 if they use the phrase "write-off."

Yeah but the upside of that particularly ignorance is that a charity gets a donation.. Win-win in my book.

They might benefit indirectly from the donation in a way they couldn't by spending the money themselves, while also getting an income tax deduction.

money that I will never see again

See also: depreciation on a $150K tractor I didn’t need.


Depreciation on a $150K tractor you don't need amounts to -$150K, for what it's worth ;) It's just some amount of that every year (with the biggest hit being in the same year, same for buying a new car).

I think one of the issues is the farmers are conflating their incorporated farm's assets with their own.

I think it's a failure at root to understand how marginal tax rates work. There is an honest-to-god, widespread folk mythology about how you can actually earn less by earning more, because you'll pay a higher tax rate. You can hear this opinion expressed by people of all intelligence levels and in all professions, from fry cooks to engineers.

This, in my experience, drives a lot of insane opinions about taxes.


US tax code is a strange animal. While in general you take home more if you earn more, the curve is not always smooth. There are several spot you suddenly lose the ability to claim certain benefit as income increase. In a situation like that you could take home slightly less as your income increase. If your income is high enough, those doesn't apply to you. All you need to worry about it the different tax bracket.

Very very few things being claimed by the average person fall off immediately, almost all of them scale such that you are still netting an increase, even if that increase is less pronounced.

In fact, I can't think of a thing where this isn't the case. Can you provide an example?


> the curve is not always smooth

THIS

If the tax code was easily understood, these steep/jagged areas of the tax curve wouldn't exist. Even my accountant seems to struggle with the amount of variables when I ask similar questions.


Yes. This is absolutely a big problem. The incentives are all wrong here. But that's not really what we're talking about. We're talking about working people who aren't receiving any additional government assistance not understanding marginal tax rates.

I still remember a HS teacher insisting that because she got a raise she took less money home. A friend of mine was the son of a CPA and all but called her a liar in the middle of class.

I was one of those people who didn't understand it enough to think that an increase once you got to a new bracket applied to all your income. In that situation, it's logical to be careful not to move to the next tax bracket accidentally. It wasn't until later that I understood that the bracket applies only to the amount of your income that is above the bracket amount. I think it's a common assumption to make if you don't research it more carefully.

Sadly, this is a conversation I've had several times.

In my case it was true, because I became ineligible for overtime.

But it is true that the marginal earnings decrease. If I suddenly am making less on the margin for working more, that might be enough to tip the decision to "not worth it."

But from experience in the UK where there are some points in the tax scale that have odd high marginal rates (about £110k I think) but if you in that rage your employer normally pays you enough to jump over that band and you can do salary sacrifice or extra payments into a pension for some juicy tax benefits also EIS's and VCT's come into play at that level.

Most white collar professionals don't have obvious things they could invest money in that would quickly improve their bottom line. Farmers have that option constantly, so their situation is qualitatively different in a way that the white collar professionals in this thread clearly have trouble understanding.

Except that in the situation described, this wasn't "I am reinvesting in my business to turn a higher profit in the future" but rather a case of "I am buying something that will not improve my bottom line in order to avoid paying taxes."

They aren't buying things they don't need. They are buying newer equipment to replace older equipment. Could they wait another 2-5 years on some of those purchases, maybe, but they aren't being irrational given the current system and incentives.

Not many people will deliberately throw away money just to avoid taxes that would have been cheaper.

Farmers aren't stupid. They're doing what makes them the most money in the long run.


I think both, but is it really saving money if you personally are unable to buy food after a bad season?

If it's philosophical then it doesn't matter, it's just short sighted. They just see it as "The government taking my money" vs "at least I own this semi, even if it's useless it's mine"

What? They're unable to buy food after a bad season because of their stupid tax avoidance schemes, not in spite of it.

Governments need to subsidies farming even more. In India farmers generally don't have to pay income taxes.

My parents almost invested in an Apple II solution in the early 1980s that made robocalls using a wardialer and playing a message to people and telling them where to go or call to buy things.

In the meetings where farmers as well.

The company said the system was designed by Steve Wozniak at Apple and very reliable.

Farmers did not want to buy it but rent it instead.

Why?

When you rent equipment you can claim it as an expense on taxes, anything from a telephone to a computer to tractors, etc. Another reason is if they broke, rental company would fix it or replace it with another one.


The same mindset exists in many small businesses that require regular asset purchases, especially manufacturing. I'm not sure farming is special in this regard.

Doesn't it make more sense to buy insurance, if they want to forward the money to next year? Insurance is usually overpaying for future events, but if the cost is losing 30% to the IRS or 50% on stuff you don't need it might make sense.

Depends do farmers avoid tax on fuel like they do in the UK

> The farmers would talk about struggling, but have a brand new semi-tractor sitting in a barn unused 10 months out of the year.

Don't you think that PERCEPTION is a horrible mindset?

Less sympathy to people's stresses because they haven't lost their dignity.

This applies to street beggars, immigrants, etc.

The stuff I've heard are appalling. Formally middle class immigrants getting less empathy because they have cell phones. "Hey they should have sold the cell phone thats not a prerequisite to communication in 2017, their priorities are way too off for them to deserve any support"

Back to the topic at hand, maybe thats part of the suicide!


> "Hey they should have sold the cell phone thats not a prerequisite to communication in 2017, their priorities are way too off for them to deserve any support"

Not to get too off topic here but during my college years I worked at a grocery store. I found it unbelievable how many times I had to listen to a customer complain about the cell phone that the customer who was in front of them had. "I just don't understand how they can afford a cell phone if they are on food stamps!"[0] "Uh cool, would you like plastic or paper?"

Keep in mind that a trac phone plan is less than $15 dollars a month and even cheaper if you are careful with it... but I wouldn't have dared tell the outraged customer that. It's always crazy to me how people think they can solve another persons life problems based on a 15 second observation.

[0] In Massachusetts the food stamp cards were/are a distinct blue color and easy to spot.


To take it further off-topic, anyone on a cell phone while checking out or delaying the line at the grocery store gets an evil eye from me. That goes for you too granny that counts out every penny! :P

While your general observation is reasonable, it doesn't apply to the GPs example of a farmer buying an expensive piece of farm equipment that they will not use just to reduce their taxable income. In the examples you gave the cell phone is actually used.

Is it possible to criticize decisions and have empathy at the same time?

Or is criticism not acceptable at all?


Currently, the first comment including replies makes up for 182 comments out of 312, and as far as page estate goes, it completely dominates. It's about technicalities, attachment to land, all sorts of things except depression and suicide.

Though what it pushes down isn't all better, with niceties such as "the market is doing a good job at signaling that they probably need to change professions"

Fucking HN. Seriously. I want textfiles back.

> Is it possible to criticize decisions and have empathy at the same time?

Yes, it's possible, but it's not done here.

> Or is criticism not acceptable at all?

Are you projecting? Whenever the glaring soullessnes in a HN thread is criticized, it's downvotes and hair splitting.

Yes, it's technically possible to have empathy and also criticize, but due to the sequential nature of communication even when you do both, you have to decide what to do first. When the whole page is taken up by chatter, the empathy exists somewhere below the "More" fold, if at all.

Yes, criticism is acceptable. As long as criticism of the criticism, such as calling it heartless victim blaming as I would, is also acceptable. Otherwise, the right to criticize is forfeit.


sure its possible

wasn't from the people I saw, typically coworkers, friends, their parents


Many 'family farms' even in the dainty UK are multi-million $ businesses, run by people who know how to shear sheep and bunt hurdles and wurzels. They complain about the effect of market prices, and the worry they create, but they are taking on these risks unhedged (and farmers being unhedged makes me giggle). Similar size businesses would we hedging their FX risk through their local bank with simple FX forwards. Farmers could directly hedge corn prices (commodities futures), and indirectly hedge fertilizer and diesel prices with oil futures. They could virtually remove market risk and concentrate on the risk inherent in the business (weather, disease etc)

I would offer this advice, but they are all so clever you can't tell them anything. They are a very insular bunch in general and their tie to their land is a bit more than the blood sweat and tears mentioned below, its a bit more like being the Lord of their Manor. I agree with the top post, they would happily be less profitable to save tax. It is intriguing (but not surprising to me) that many UK farmers voted to leave the EU, despite it being their main source of unearned income and the main market for their goods, and despite the National Farmers Union coming out in favor of remaining. I have noticed the young generation of farmers be openly aggressive towards foreign people (not that they actually meet any). It is kind of sad, but when they all lose their farms after Brexit they will still blame the French for it.

Disclosure: worked a lot with farmers, and have some in the family


In the case of Brexit "Fear of immigration drove the leave victory – not immigration itself"

https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jun/24/voting-deta...

Dominic Cummings, architect of the Vote Leave campaign has been pretty open about what they regarded as the winning factors:

" Would we have won without immigration? No. Would we have won without £350m/NHS? All our research and the close result strongly suggests No."

Even though I was a Remain voter I have to credit Vote Leave with how dynamic and data driven their campaign was - they knew what buttons to press based on large quantities of raw data.


> I have to credit Vote Leave with how dynamic and data driven their campaign was

Almost all of it was false. There's no credit here.

> they knew what buttons to press based on large quantities of raw data.

Well, they do have a large country backing them.


Note that I am not saying that the claims they made in their campaign were correct - far from it.

What I mean is that they managed their campaign in a data driven and dynamic way - even to the point of hiring developers and writing their own polling platform VICS:

https://www.flourish.org/2017/02/a-short-walk-around-vote-le...

Both sides had crappy campaigns full of lies - the Vote Leave lot were unfortunately much better at it.

[Edit: For the avoidance of doubt, I've always been and will remain a strong believer that the UK should be in the EU].


It sounds like you know some truly nasty people - the fact they are farmers is merely window dressing. Some huge broad brush strokes tarring people in that comment, and almost a gloating tone about the idea of people losing their livelihoods because of Brexit. Quite odd.

I know of UK farms that hedge their crop and currency prices. There is a common theme of wanting to be both hedging and getting the upside, but I don't think they are all unhedged.

>There is a common theme of wanting to be both hedging and getting the upside

I see that in my professional life x10. When I suggest 'options' (so you get the option of taking the hedge or the market at the strike date) they scoff at the margin. We are back to Brexit again, they want to have their cake and eat it!

I'm sure you are right that there are some farmers, especially the 'agi-businesses' that are hedging. There seem to be many more that are winging it.


I'm talking about single farmer farms and similar.

There was an article on HN not long ago [1] about professionals leaving their jobs in record numbers to pursue life as a farmer, producing and living off the land.

How do we reconcile on the one hand farmers by trade leaving and wannabe farmers wanting to join a farm life?

[1]https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15771168


Farmers that are killing themselves grow commodity products. The people who are leaving corporate jobs to become farmers are wanting to farm specialty products like organic products or high end products like mushrooms, flowers, wine, or specialty cheeses. The problem is that the farmers who grow commodity crops live in areas that are not suited to growing specialty crops (the middle of the country) so they can't switch. Specialty crops are mostly grown on the west coast and the east coast where there is better soil and in some cases more water think Central Valley, Willamette Valley, Hudson River Valley. https://modernfarmer.com/2013/08/cashing-in-specialty-crops-...

I also expect commodity farmer have significant debt and illiquid assets (namely all the machinery necessary for large-scale commodity farming as well as related lands), and most likely contracts with agro distributors to fulfil.

Regardless of soil suitability, you can't just shuck off a farm worth (tens of) millions, debt on the same scale (average debt-to-assets as of 2017 is ~13% and I would expect the farmers featured here are way worse) and throw out decades of experience to try and grow mushrooms, it's unlikely that it would make your clients and creditors happy. Even less so when you're in your 50s.


It's not just what they grow, but how they grow it and sell it. The soil on many mid-country farms is bad because of years of growing with chemical pesticides and fertilizers and bad practices, something that is potentially reversible with alternate growing methods.

Commodity growers on huge farms distribute their food into large grocers potentially all over the world, to be sold at the lowest possible price. They must maximize yields at any cost to make money. Specialty growers sell into farmer's markets, CSA's, etc, at a much higher cost for the goods. This is why many of them are in coastal and affluent areas, where the buyers are willing to pay considerably more for local, fresh produce that has been grown organically.


"The grass is always greener". I grew up on a dairy farm, its easy to romanticize it but the reality of waking up to literally chip and shovel frozen shit at 5am (almost daily chore to clean barns in winter) gets old after a decade. I worked hard to get out of farming and never want to go back. I love my tech job.

So true, I sometimes quip that growing up shoveling manure on our family dairy farm was excellent preparation for the corporate world I now work in. This life is so much easier, everyday, I'm warm and dry.

The image of Blaske on the farm, illuminating the darkness, is a powerful one. “Sometimes the batteries were low and the light was not so bright,” he wrote, “But when you found the cow that was missing, you also found a newborn calf, which made the dark of night much brighter.”

Winter was the worst, fumbling around in the dark, the mud, the cold. Miserable existence.


>This life is so much easier, everyday, I'm warm and dry.

This cannot be understated. No matter the weather, waiting for the train or walking to the office will never be bad compared to the past.


The people leaving tech for farming are not mucking barns, they’re managing farms and hiring people to do the hard work. Think of more as a new-plantation, rather than a farm. I worked on a horse farm as a kid, and like you it was backbreaking, shit-shoveling, hay-slinging work. Now I have a good friend who owns horses, but she “has people” who do the hard work. She rides, and grooms a bit... money you know?

As someone else who also grew up on a dairy farm (UK), it's very hard to find reliable people to do the work. I can understand that as an office job has a lot of attractions compared to being out in rain in the winter darkness. They will often leave with no notice and it can be very hard to find someone reliable to replace them.

I don't see much progress on this, unless farming becomes profitable to employ staff on top wages or robots can become cheap enough to take over. Therefore, my family, though managing the farm, will often have to get involved in long hours manual labour.


My sister used to quote this to me when we were younger: "If you want to make a million with horses, start with three million"

> I worked hard to get out of farming and never want to go back.

I saw a documentary on Youtube about Italian dairy farmers, their kids wanted to get out so the farms started importing people from Punjab(India) who were already skilled in dairy handling.


I dunno, man. I spent a few days working on building a house in the pouring rain, and it was better than the last 5 years I've been doing behind a computer. Only reason I didn't quit then and there is because I have financial obligations.

That's the difference between "a few days" and "a decade"

And that one choses to do it, rather it chosen for you.

I remember that discussion. I also remember the major criticism was that a good portion of the people who are moving from tech to farming were already independently wealthy enough to bootstrap their farm into a good place. And on top of that getting to choose where their farm is located. Contrast that with a farmer who may have inherited what he has from his parents and may not be in as good a financial state, or their land holding is too small or has too much local or regional competition to make it profitable.

Why is that a valid criticism? Doesn't that just boil down to "people who want to do x and have money can end up in a better spot than people who inherited x and have less money?"

It's not criticism, it's responding to the question asked.

Q: How do we reconcile on the one hand farmers by trade leaving and wannabe farmers wanting to join a farm life?

A: "people who want to do x and have money can end up in a better spot than people who inherited x and have less money?"


That's fair but the comment I was replying to posed it as a criticism (maybe that it was posed as a criticism in the original thread, which I have only a vague recollection of). That's what confused me. I agree it seems like a perfectly valid response.

The point is that a rich software developer's idyllic romanticized farming experience might not match with an actual farmer's soul-crushing experience. That's the reconciliation.

> Doesn't that just boil down to "people who want to do x and have money can end up in a better spot than people who inherited x and have less money?"

Is that not a valid criticism?


I mean, inheriting a farm is inheriting a lot of money. Were family farmers perfectly rational economic actors, they'd presumably sell their inherited farm and use the proceeds to buy one more suited to the newer, locally grown, organic type farms that are more insulated from the economies of scale that are driving them out of business.

But obviously people aren't such rational actors, and farmers have emotional attachments to their farms, the rural areas they grew up in, etc. And so they keep trying to make the old model work, increase their debt loads and hope things will turn around until its too late.


One issue at least in my own state that has eliminated many family farms is the inheritance tax rate judges the value of the land on its highest possible economic value of use. This means getting taxed on subdividing the entire property and developing it not taxed on the value of the land if kept as a farm. This lead to every generational change over of a family farm to generally have to halve the size of the farm and then have a new development of NIMBY's surrounding them steadily. The farm lobby in my state has been pushing a bill to base the inheritance tax on the farm value of the land if the land is kept in production as a working farm for 15 years following payment.

I can't speak to anyone else's experience but when my uncle took over the (CA Central Valley) family farm he didn't experience a windfall. And most years he made more money at his side job (substitute teaching) than from the farm.

Selling a farm isn't like selling a house, you can go years with no offers.

I guess my hang up is that it seems pretty self-evident. Yeah, money makes things easier. I don't think any of the software developers on this site making 3-5x the median individual wage will argue against that. Assuming for a moment that "money buys things" is a valid criticism of some independently wealthy software developer buying a farm (?), what's the proposed solution to that?

Instead of "criticism" read takeaway or insight, rather than criticism of the preference. I think they are saying, the new farmers can choose that path because they have fall back, not that they have a better farming plan or better farming insight over generational farmers.

Of what?

Not the phenomenon itself — everyone should be free to pick a new career as circumstances and desires change — but of some interpretations of that phenomenon.

I don't want to set up a straw man here, but a hypothetical analyst could look at this trend and think something special is happening with farming (as mc32 put: "[thinking] that they have a better farming plan or better farming insight over generational farmers") — picture a cover story with the headline "farming is back", now picture a less upmarket story titled "15 reasons to be a farmer (ear of corn emoji)! You won't BELIEVE number 12!".

Whereas it's an iteration of the eternal "strike gold, open a boutique" story.


You can have a rural life, and not be hurt by the vagaries of farm prices etc.

Me for instance. I live on 80 acres outside Iowa City (a college town). The neighbor does the farming of half the land; he pays rent on the land and suffers the risk all himself.

So best of both worlds for me. I have my orchard, gardens, sheds, tractor (for mowing and plowing) and rural vistas. And work remotely at software for whomever, at about 10X the rate a farmer gets 'paid'.


That's pretty much how my grandmother manages her land. A guy I went to high school with now plants and harvests it. The normal stuff: soybeans and corn.

An orchard would be sweet.


JoeAltmaier says>" he pays rent on the land and suffers the risk all himself."

Doesn't that depend on which way the wind blows (you can be exposed to airborne chemicals and organisms)? And what about the water supply - any problem with nitrates, for example?

I envy you to some degree, but my mother's relatives lived on farms and paid heavy dues health-wise for that.


Can you go into greater detail?

What happened to your mother's relatives?


Very stark difference between choosing the trade and it being handed to you. If you choose to go into the trade, you still have a way out that a lifelong farmer doesn't.

It also doesn't help that rural America is dying in general, but that's a different matter.


Large-scale industrial farming (hyper-competitive, boring, "work") vs. small-scale hipster farming (microgreens, heirloom vegetables, heritage breeds, "lifestyle")

The person cited in the article was not a staid farmer. He adopted no till, and other at the time, avant guard farming techniques, so i think that mischaracterizes at least him.

They're both 'farmers' in the sense that a guy programming plc's in a factory and an ml/ai guy coding linear algebra optimizations are both 'programmers'. Close to 0 overlap in job markets, prospects, career paths etc.

Probably some kind of extorsion going on. E.g. Monsanto selling seeds for exorbitant prices. Financial constructs that farmers can't get out of, or other business practices that make farmers desperate.

>How do we reconcile on the one hand farmers by trade leaving and wannabe farmers wanting to join a farm life?

Stardew Valley


Local farm services guy had this to say: "Used to buy truckloads of fertilizer, then the coop would buy train car loads and undercut us. So we bought a train car - they bought a train. We bought a train - they bought a barge. The margins are disappearing entirely"

Almost everybody is being squeezed out by 'economies of scale'. And its going to get worse, when we start making simple foodstuffs electrically (starch, sugar, protein). Then we'll see the entire farm industry turned upside down.


This happens any time your only differentiator is price. The small guy is never going to be able to compete with a larger company on only price. Never make your differentiator "we're cheaper"! It's business 101.

Eh...I've worked in a few businesses that do this. Visual effects was the most notable.

Also, in the US, isn't the government required to go with the lowest bidder to some degree on contracts?


Isn’t that an example of what the GP is taking about? I keep hearing the VFX business is terrible, with horrific overwork and low pay, for exactly that reason. See this article http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2013/feb/25/oscars-protest-li... and this accompanying comment when it was posted to Reddit: http://reddit.com/r/movies/comments/1969o6/more_than_400_vfx...

Yes and yes, the conditions aren't great. I've heard video games is even worse (esp. EA).

Edited: [long paragraph about vfx but the reddit link covers it exactly]

I came across the same model when working with an architecture firm and it makes me wonder if maybe all client services, given the power disparity and need to please, isn't like this. Architecture is far more regulated of course but in the design stages I heard from people that were pissed that they were going to take a bath on a project (and look bad and have their numbers look bad) because an executive wanted to make sure that client was happy (such that they cut a mansion renovation down by 50%) or won't do an add service after a client completely throws stuff out the window and changes the scope of a project.

At least in VFX there was OT and DT. I felt bad for architects that were highly educated, with subsequent loans, and working a lot of overtime but not being compensated for it.

I'll stick with IT, even though that has its own issues.

It sucks that this may be happening in farming, which isn't a 'sexy' industry like architecture or film, but our greater society as a whole seems more cutthroat and bargain-driven these days.


Unless that’s a game you can win - see Amazon.

I was always under the impression their differentiator is speed, convenience, and selection. They're marketing is heavily towards how quickly and how conveniently they can get anything you want to you.

Either way, that's exactly my point. Why would you compete with Amazon on price? They can get anything in larger bulk quantities than you ever could.


I do a substantial amount of personal shopping on Amazon -- 6-7 orders a month -- and they are rarely the cheapest option. Shipping & hassle-free returns is the value-add.

Outliers should never be used to guide your strategy.

But Amazon is not cheaper for all things.. I think their original value add was free shipping.

The first thing I learned when I started working life in a store was: "We do not compete by undercutting the competition. That will kill us both."

But, corn is corn. There's no winning in a commodity market. And grain is the classic commodity.

You can win in a commodity market by changing the commodity, or by cornering the commodity in some manner (whether distribution, demand + supply angles, or supply).

OPEC for example exists to create such an atmosphere for its members.

DeBeers managed to keep the price of not-very-scarce diamond comically inflated for many decades.

Monsanto is going to use CRISPR to create its own unique variations of crops (changing the commodity).


But is it? I don't know about corn, but the mega-crop varieties of tomato and apple are bred to maximize revenue/reduce cost (larger, more robust for shipping, more consistent shape), not taste and nutrition.

Right, there are two different markets, commodity crops and specialty crops (e.g. mega-crop tomatos vs organic local tomatoes)

You can be in either market, but it is hard to switch between them. The equipment, land area used, process, etc are different.


Also there is no middle ground, it's one or the other.

Which only works until someone like Amazon comes around. Market inefficiencies which only persist by mutual agreement are doomed in the long run.

That's not an example of a market inefficiency. It's an example of Amazon having a structural advantage that allows it to be profitable at a lower cost to consumers.

The market inefficiency being referenced was not Amazon coming in; it was the existing producers keeping their prices above fair market value by gentleman's agreement.

If they're both going to go out of business by cutting prices then the prices are already at fair market value.

> when we start making simple foodstuffs electrically (starch, sugar, protein).

Interesting. Do you happen to know what's the state of research on this?


Probably something like this is more imminent than creating non-biological food from water and sunlight electrically.

After all, wood is just long chains of sugar.

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2013/04/could-wood-feed-world

From there proteins can be created using the sugars as a substrate. Once again, will probably be a biological process. Nutritive yeasts are interesting.


Sounds like they could use the model that made Danish farmers rich in the 19th century: you get everybody together and buy seeds, etc through one company, then you divide any profit and loss on that company equally among everybody (so the company effective does not make any profit). The same thing can be done for a dairy processing system, meat plant or anywhere else that a large number of people need to buy and sell things that are similar.

How does that handle a 'farmer' who just does a desultory job of farming? I.e., he doesn't outright not farm, but he barely seeds, harvests badly and thus produces very little.

That is the smart part of the system: he will get very little out it, as the proceeds are distributed based an how much money you spend/sell for.

There are few places where market forces work as well as in farming. Which is surprising considering the distortions imposed by subsidies. Still, I think this is a case where automation will eliminate many if not all of their jobs and the market is doing a good job at signaling that they probably need to change professions. This especially rang true when they mentioned how the price of a wheat bushel appeared to below production costs. It’s really pains me to see these men having to deal with the dark side of creative distruction but I also don’t know what’s the best way to help them reinvent themselves for the future.

What would a good role of government be?

It sounds like subsidizing getting people off the farm would be helpful, but that's also loaded politically.

One program I've heard of working well is subsidizing fallow land that eventually just becomes wild and never returns to cultivation.


I was reading other commenters mentioning the relatively old age of farmers. Maybe the only good option would be something like removing/phasing out existing subsidies so that only right amount of young people choose the profession coupled with a generous retirement program. Something like social security plus but with your farmland backing the plus part. Maybe in the spirit of what you’re describing. I worry about the unforseeable consequences of paying to leave arable land fallow. You’re essentially raising food prices and that really affects poor people the most.

Maybe there's also a concern about losing farming knowledge in local areas. This is a speculation since my general assumption is that as one of the oldest, most studied professions, we have more than enough knowledge socked away on it.

>reinvent themselves for the future.

Give people meaning


I imagine that farmers' high rate of gun ownership and social isolation are the big factors. It's pretty well documented that people with guns are more likely to successfully take their lives when compared to suicidal people who do not have guns. Couple that with the fact that there is not really a support system or general awareness of this issue and you have a problem. Veterans are also likely to own guns, but at least they have the VA and other organizations that are readily available to help in the event of emotional or psychological issues. Farmers do not have an equivalent organization.

This appears to be an issue for farmers worldwide. In India the same logic is used with "access to pesticide" substituted for "access to guns" [1].

[1] http://www.un.org/esa/sustdev/csd/csd16/PF/presentations/far...


Because their way of life is over. You can't be a small farmer any more-farming unfortunately scales really well so bigger concerns run the show now. They've got nothing left-they're up to their ears in debt, their way of life is gone, so whats left to do?

I don't want to offend anyone, but could a high rate of suicides on farms have anything to do with the heavy use of pesticides in these places (which operate essentially as nerve agents, so it would not be surprising if they caused higher than normal rates of depression, hoarding, etc). Not trolling, just curious.

We know that some sheep-dip chemicals have caused problems, but there's very little evidence that agro-chemicals in general are a causitive problem for mental ill health.

Suicide prevention talks about access to means and methods.

Internationally agro-chemicals are a problem because they're one of the most commonly used methods for death by suicide.

But in the US there's easy access to guns, and so restricting access to agro-chemcials is unlikely to have much effect.


One question I would ask: Has the average age of a farmer gone up substantially in the last couple of decades? This alone could be a major contributing factor, because the male suicide rate (at least in the U.S.) goes up with age.

Over what time? In the last few years the younger generation has been returning to the farm decreasing the age, but go back farther and the age as been getting older.

That's an extremely interesting suggestion!

Unfortunately technology is likely going to exacerbate this problem more than it helps. There will Be platforms like Farmers Buisiness Network of FarmLead, that will help smaller farms access better information and price but but that will quickly be arbitraged away and then you’re left with economies of scale.

The amazing thing is the median age of farmers in the USA is ~56. In the next ten years over half are retire-able. Who is going to take over? Corporations or the current immigrant workers? Its a huge change for most of the country.

This assumes they are able to retire. Given the financial outlooks presented in the article, I think retiring is not in the books for these farmers.

Well then what about 10 years later when they start keeling over? At some point, the music stops.

Farming will do what it has been doing for two centuries in the US: leap forward in automation. The technology is all primed to cause an extraordinary increase in productivity.

Meanwhile the US population growth is trending toward zero.

Odds are, the US can lose half its farmers over the next 30 years and still increase net food production to match very modest population growth.


This isn't a new trend. In 1820 72% of Americans worked in "farm occupations". Today it's less than 2%.

The Guardian article on Dec 6, 2017 quotes the stat from Newsweek which has a date of July 13, 2016 quoting a 2014 study showing the number at 15.2 per 100,000. The other cited source is a CDC Study from 2016 with data up until 2012 that shows Farmers, Foresters, and Fishermen have the highest suicide rates of any profession in the US. Strangely, the CDC study puts the number at 84.5 per 100,000[1].

I would really like to see a bit more rigor and comparison so I know what is really going on.

1) https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6525a1.htm#contribA... table 2


My educated guess (I was a sysadmin in a major north Texas age company) is the hidden nature of the mergers, acquisitions, and interdependency the huge ag firms and bankers have fostered on what used to be family farms, and don't be fooled, true family farms are rarer and rarer these days.

I don't know when it changed so much from my great grandparents days, but when I see farmers with brand new ford raptors and 500k tractors less than a few years old it seems to fly in the face of what my grandparents described as life on a farm.


Gee, I wonder why - small to medium farmers make just enough to get subsidized into almost not backsliding into debt and oblivion.

Then a bad season hits, thanks to climate change. Cant afford food, much less taxes, maybe a mortgage.

Aaaaaaand now we're back to mislabelled sharecropping - or better yet, bottom-dollar buyouts from factory farms that destroy the land, the jobs, and probably your colon, dear reader. Another dust bowl, coming soon!


I wonder how much prior boom times have an impact on farmers because prices on the crops have just languished for years now.

2008 had very aggressive price appreciation in corn & beans. Same can be said for late 2010, all 2011, all 2012, & early 2013. After that prices have absolutely fallen off a cliff & continue to hover near those lows every single day.

I suspect it's difficult to be in the "risk management" business which farmers are by being "long" the crop in the ground & having no price appreciation for years. Meanwhile all other risk assets continue to explode higher. At some point it probably becomes challenging to find a light at the end of the tunnel. Now with rising interest rates the cost of capital is higher & likely going to accelerate higher.

Higher operating costs (wages & debt service) & continually deperessed prices of the product you produce. I don't have a solution for any of this but by putting myself in those shoes it sure does seem horrible.


Maybe they have been faced with the prospect of moving to a city and working in an office.

These people are in their 50-60s. That's not a likely transition. A few might be able to get into sales or traveling trade work.

But most of them are going to have a difficult time finding any sort of work. Agism and the stigma of being a bumpkin/luddite will absolutely work against them.


On a side note, this is the heart of how Democrats managed to lose the last Presidential election. Telling 50 year old machinists and farmers that they should get government assistance to get a loan to learn computer programming because their job moved to Mexico is much less palatable than the guy who will call the president of the company and tell them not to close the factory.

The numbers of votes for the current president were not remarkably higher than for the Republican candidate in 2012. The remarkable difference was a loss of votes for the Democratic candidate compared to 2012.

I do agree that Democrats should be more inclusive and less impractical with the issues they take, and it's a valuable lesson. However, they should bear in mind the reality of what happened: they fielded an unexpectedly unpopular candidate and the votes show it.


stigma of being a bumpkin/Luddite

Which is a terrible assumption to make.

Many farmers (at least here in the mid-Atlantic) are college-educated absolutely not bumpkins/Luddites. Unsurprisingly, agricultural programs have a useful blend of business/economics and science.


That's why it's called a 'stigma' - a reputation, not a fact.

Yes, I was agreeing with you.

On the flipside consider the stigma of the office worker, aka scriviner. Pale, unhealthy, tortured, drained, doomed to live in a mechanistic hellhive. The farmer believes death is a better fate.

The amount of acreage it takes to be profitable goes up every year, and as a result people get squeezed out of the business. That's going to be tough on a guy in his fifties who never wanted to be anything but a farmer.

How does this suicide rate compare to small business owners overall? It seems that owning a farm is the suicide risk. Not working on one.

I'll guess: depression, isolation, uncertainty, one paycheck a year (when the harvest comes in), physical danger and health risks.

Yeah, I'm curious if isolation isn't a key here. As technological advancements have enabled farmers to manage more and more land, they are getting more and more spread out. Social isolation has psychological and real physiological impacts on wellbeing.

and hardly any hired hands any more - they work alone

It's not only America. Same story in France (as just one example). More interestingly there was a documentary about the 40s in France, and a farmer interviewed said the exact same things as a farmer today about the struggle of surviving in this "field"... nothing's changed.

The same thing happens in Canada.

For some farms.

I have relatives that are dairy farmers in Ontario and they seem to be doing ok. There's some kind of collective in place that establishes production quotas and you have to pay for the right to produce. Maybe more commodity products could benefit from this type of planning.


It makes Canadian dairy products rather expensive. Helping businesses collude to drive up prices and increase profits really should not be the role of government. Cartels are good for their members, but not for the rest of society.

See also, https://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/rob-comme...


> Helping businesses collude to drive up prices and increase profits really should not be the role of government.

Well, that's one way to look at it. Another way is to say it stabilizes a strategically important sector and establishes a minimum wage for dairy farmers. I'd rather pay more for milk than have desperate farmers killing themselves at record rates. There's a societal cost to that as well.


This is also why milk costs 50% more in Canada than in the US. Still, a reliable supply of food reduces the risk of famine which is more important than a purely competitive market.

and India (as mentioned in the article) [1]

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farmers%27_suicides_in_India


and France (as mentioned in the article) [1]

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/20/world/europe/france-farm-...


If anyone was wondering, the farmer death per day is 33.6 per day in India (it was mentioned as a single number since 1995).

Farming is irreplaceable as of now. I don't want it to be replaceable, do you?.

Replaceable with what?

Some lab-based process that produces the same products at the same volume with less impact on the land?

Would that be such a bad thing?


Same thing happens in Switzerland.

I would say farmers are quite happy in Switzerland being the most subsidised farmers in Europe / the world?

On top, some of them own land, which makes them into multimillionaires the moment the land is turned from farm-land into land that can be used to put houses on.


Subsidising farmers is double edge sword, it do inflate the prices of everything you are supposed to buy with that money, be it tractors, land, fertilisers and such. Dealers know how much you are going to get from government and they want some of it.

Sure but the Swiss are the most risk-averse people on the planet. In case again a world-war breaks out they need to be able to feed the country without relying on imports. That an important main reasons for subsidies. If somehow it could be guaranteed that there will be no war in Europe ever, my best guess is that the Swiss would immediately drop this "inefficiency" (they love to be efficient).

Sure, but my comment was about the effect of subsidiaries to profitability of given farms. What I see, as a small scale farmer myself, and as having family members having executive roles in big industrial farm conglomerates, is that those subsidies have effect on pricing of farm inputs.

new topic but I am noticing a new trend where rich people have started owning farm land. Not sure why but I hope it is not contributing to this problem in a weird way.

> but the most extreme anti-government/anti-tax ideologies. It's the very definition of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

That sadly isn't an extreme ideologies. Every wonder why Republicans are all for tax cuts? Its the simple idea that if the Government has less money it must be smaller. So lower the taxes of the rich and corporations = smaller government. This is why we have problems all the time with tax talks. Both sides talk with different worldviews. You might say "Trickle Down Economics Doesn't Work," they simply don't care, "There is nothing that Government does well." "Government is the problem" - Ronald Reagan 1981 Inauguration https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P1sGN6J9Tgs

Though I love throwing Reagan into the face of today's "Conservatives" they really would HATE Reagan today and his liberal ways.


This triggered the sort of low-rent political thread we don't want here. Please don't do that.

We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15862439 and marked it well off-topic.


I thought everyone was very respectful.

It's way off topic.

Yes, it is. Thanks for your moderation.

I am generally in favor of a smaller national government and my default position on a tax cut is positive until proven otherwise, yet I still understand how progressive tax structures work. I have many friends and associates who would be considered conservative even among other Republicans, and probably have inconceivably conservative viewpoints by most of HN's standards. And I don't think any of them would spend $150k just to keep $30k out of the government's hands. So yes I think if you're going to hurt yourself financially to make some token gesture toward the government that won't even show up on a budget spreadsheet because it's so small, that's either an extreme ideological viewpoint or you don't know how taxes work. "Never ascribe to malice" and all that.

And individual taxes aside, corporate taxes should absolutely be lower, they're among the highest in the world.


> corporate taxes should absolutely be lower, they're among the highest in the world.

Effective Rate

So lets say Corporate Tax is a 20% flat tax from 35% the taxes would actually increase. Because they are actually paid at around 15% and no where close to highest in the world. We are actually on par or bellow the average tax rate across the world. https://www.forbes.com/sites/eriksherman/2017/04/24/trumps-c...

Personally I would love to see a drop of corporate federal taxes and place them more on the individuals. Tax the shareholder and those that profit from the corporations. The truth is this isn't happening and why we see the money continually going to the top and not filtering down. Corporations are incentivized to lower wages and benefits to extract more profit. As the economic disparity continues to climb and the burden is placed on the middle and lower class to support profit growth. Looking at taxes for the national safety net for the working poor, higher utilities bills, and higher medical expenses and insurance cost. None of these are of concern for the wealthy.

We can't even have a conversation on what is fair for the working poor and instead we disincentive work in America. The "conservatives" today are just totally Libertarians who could careless if work is incentivized.


I've always thought of "trickle down economics" as an overly-rosy way of saying that we'll "grow our way out of the hole". Nevermind the 'conservatives' will never stop digging, will never cut spending, even occasionally spinning up another entitlement of their own, and only occasionally toss their people a bone by slowing existing programs' growth rate.

I don't think Reagan thought of government size as being a problem since he grew it massively. I think he did rebel against bureaucracies and waste/fraud/abuse, at least rhetorically. Ultimately, the guy was a deal-maker, and he'd happily grow the government (with military at the forefront) if he could get his stimulative tax cuts.

> Though I love throwing Reagan into the face of today's "Conservatives" they really would HATE Reagan today and his liberal ways.

He was as liberal as JFK was, which is to say Reagan was your classic "govt can do some good here"-liberal. Today's true "liberals" are cultural marxists, which ultimately makes them toxic, hence their precipitous decline recently. If the libs could drop the culture war stuff and focus on labor issues and positive right-sized governing, they'd shoot back to popularity. Nothing will improve while power comes chiefly from dividing people and the hatred continues to flow.

Reagan was a moral man and he was a good orator, making him a fine spokesman for America and raising our stock worldwide. That he could reassure and comfort people was the best part about him; the rest of Reagan was muddled goods and bads.


But Hillary wasn't a liberal. Liberals actually hated her. We are now in the world perception of Democrat = Liberal and Republican = Conservative and its just wrong. I grew up being a Republican and I don't think I have changed much in my political stances but everyone else has moved far to the Libertarian doctrine.

Case in point: Increase the wages and benefits = less government funding. Never going to get backing from Republican Party in its present form. So instead we have this Corporation Welfare system where tax dollars for Walmart's benefits.


Hillary Clinton presented, by not a small margin, the most left-leaning platform any major-party Presidential candidate has ever put forth. Modulo foreign policy, the daylight between her campaign and the Sanders campaign was pretty narrow.

I don't know where this "Hillary Clinton isn't liberal" thing comes from, but it is demonstrably untrue.


She was a centrist. Bill Clinton was more Conservative than Liberal and Hillary was certainly more like Bill.

The platform was built to help bring on Bernie Sander's supports on board. It didn't help with the release of the Russian Hacked DNC Email that was published by wiki leaks. If you look at the emails it is clear how Democrat Leadership saw Bernie as to liberal and to far to the left. Heck in America Canada is equal to communism so I can understand why people view her as a liberal.

> Modulo foreign policy, the daylight between her campaign and the Sanders campaign was pretty narrow.

They weren't as close as you are presenting.

http://www.businessinsider.com/hillary-clinton-vs-bernie-san...


> But Hillary wasn't a liberal.

I don't know why you're bringing her up. You're using the term 'liberal', but I haven't got a clue what people mean when they say that anymore. What's your definition?

You say what Hillary is not, but you don't say what she is. I don't separate her in any way from the Democrats politically - at least those who hold power currently - not the rank-and-file of course.

> We are now in the world perception of Democrat = Liberal and Republican = Conservative and its just wrong.

I disagree, you're just assuming everyone's stuck in old tribal thinking when there's so much evidence to the contrary. Haven't you noticed the tectonic shifts in media over the last 5 years? The boomers are starting to die off, their power is waning, and the younger generations are restless. #metoo works because the majority is disgusted by what they see. Look at how many congress-rats are jumping ship at the end of this cycle.

The Republican party is dying for abandoning their base in order to cling to power, despite their fundraising. The Democrats are losing seats everywhere, have not been grooming enough replacements for the old-timers, and won't shake the loser 60's radical ideology - they might as well just die too.

> Case in point: Increase the wages and benefits = less government funding.

Why would you believe that taxes are a zero-sum game? Not that it always works out this way, because the economy has cycles, but you can stimulate economic activity by taxing less which does create growth that yields net increases in tax revenue.

Ask yourself, could your "tax more == more revenue" mental model be too simplistic? Who put that assumption in your head, and why is that idea so powerful for them when you accept it? (My theory is: a human tendency to treat the top of one's conceptual hierarchy as god/religion and the desire to sacrifice to the gods. If government is at the top of your hierarchy, certainly taxes are a worthy sacrifice to the good!)

I'll posit a related question; I don't know the answer because I'm not an economist, but I think it's a good one nonetheless: is there a scientifically/statistically optimal tax rate that we could tweak once a year based on forecasts and trends? Why have we not done this already if maximizing revenue is the goal? I go so far as to claim that for most people on the left (radical or not), maximizing tax revenue is never the goal, just a standard talking point when discussing tax cuts.


> Democrats are losing seats everywhere, have not been grooming enough replacements for the old-timers, and won't shake the loser 60's radical ideology

Uh, the Democrats never, as a national party, had a “60s radical ideology”, and since the 1990s have been a solidly pro-big-business center-right neoliberal party barely distinguishable from late 1980s Republicans but for some equal rights stands; that's weakened a bit in the last few years, and may have hit a tipping point after the 2016 election, though its kind of hard to tell for sure with the Dems lacking any of the national power centers.


Black Lives Matter seems very throwback racial politics to me. Is that a DNC thing, specifically? No, but clearly there's an embrace of the movement in order to secure their votes and energy. So yes, as a national party, democrats are all about griping for oppressed minority groups.

60's radical ideology is what I understand stems from the Marxist shift from class struggle to oppressed identity groups in the 60's as a means of staying relevant. Here's a discussion about this phenomena on Wikipedia:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_Left

This is cultural Marxism. This brand of politics is pessimistic, negative, divisive and wicked by nature. It foments discontent. And notice that it only seeks to lift the oppressed minorities up by bringing the oppressive majority down! Sounds like typical democrat rhetoric to me.

60's boomers' clock is ticking, the radical ideas just fading away to obscurity now... Time for some fresh thinking on the left.


Are you perhaps looking for this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laffer_curve ?

I guess so. What would be critical to me is how the model is constructed. I want it to be formulaic, if possible, to come closest to optimal and without being subject to gaming by political parties in order to score political points.

I want cold, scientific, numbers-based, optimized rate setting.


> I disagree, you're just assuming everyone's stuck in old tribal thinking when there's so much evidence to the contrary.

I wish you were correct but what evidence? Facebook and the Internet has increased Tribalism to Yellow Journalism levels. We have Breitbart and MSNBC. People mostly just read news and opinions that they agree with and don't listen to the other side.

http://fortune.com/2017/01/13/fake-news-tribalism/

> The Republican party is dying for abandoning their base in order to cling to power, despite their fundraising. The Democrats are losing seats everywhere, have not been grooming enough replacements for the old-timers, and won't shake the loser 60's radical ideology - they might as well just die too.

Um not certain what your point is but the issue is the Gerrymandering and electoral college. This is the second president this century to win with a minority of votes. The issue is the unfair way voters votes are manipulated in states, i.e. Wisconsin. https://www.brennancenter.org/blog/5-things-know-about-wisco...

> could your "tax more == more revenue" mental model be too simplistic?

Wait what? If you mean that if working poor made more money they would need less benifits????

> I don't know the answer because I'm not an economist, but I think it's a good one nonetheless:

Your asking a political science question. Economist don't get to say what our tax rates are but our politicians and there isn't one economist in the bunch. Here is one article for you https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21731166-house-republ...


> Facebook

Obama ran great campaigns, including social networks where his opponents did not -- won in landslides. Same with Trump and Hillary. Winners targeted, with laser focus, on individuals. The messages resonated; people DID listen to the other side!

Meanwhile, especially in the last two years, traditional media has totally faltered. News agencies rocked by fake news scandals, Hollywood getting #metoo'd up the keister, Amazon acquiring WaPo. YouTube is TV for a lot of kids. It's a huge shakeup going on.

> Gerrymandering

Hillary was a terrible candidate. There's no excuse for losing some of the states she lost. I don't get the opposition to the Electoral College system, it's a check on large population cities/states running the board. Hillary would have creamed Trump if she had any substance.

> Wait what? If you mean that if working poor made more money they would need less benifits????

No, I just took your "Case in point" about increased wages and benefits as equating to less tax revenues being collected (you had "less government spending" on the right, which I read as govt having less to spend.) Maybe I misread your point as it pertained to repubs, sorry if I did. I agree repubs are all talk on cutting spending.

> Your asking a political science question. Economist don't get to say what our tax rates are but our politicians and there isn't one economist in the bunch.

It really shakes my confidence, what are any of these numbers based on?? It's a miracle anything works at all.


Actually both Hillary and Obama are one nation Tories ie centre right only Bernie might be considered left wing but would be considered a Blarite by hard line leftists.

Mild shock that the conclusion isn't "Monsanto"

That's in the article about why farmers are killing each other.

https://www.npr.org/2017/06/14/532879755/a-pesticide-a-pigwe...




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