Niman Ranch Bucks Troubling Agriculture Trends

Hoop House on Kruse Family Hog Farm in Iowa

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released the 2017 Farmer Census results and, while there are a few bright spots, overall the trends are troubling. The new data found that:

Farmers are Getting Older

  • The average age of “primary producers” – the main person responsible for the farm—is 59.4 years, up from 58.3 in 2012.
  • For every farmer under 35, there are more than 6 who are over 65.

The Number of Farms and Farmland is Shrinking

  • There are 2.04 million farms and ranches (down 3.2 percent from 2012).
  • The total amount of U.S. land in farms fell 1.6% between 2012 and 2017 to 900,217,576 acres. 175 acres of farmland are developed every hour in the U.S.

Farmers are Facing Financial Challenges

  • 56.4% of farms lost money in 2017 and farmer debt rises with every passing year.
  • Seventy five percent of all agricultural sales are now coming from just five percent of farms.

Thankfully, here at Niman Ranch we are able to tell a different story.

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Niman Ranch Responds to Historic Midwest Floods

By: Chris Oliviero, Niman Ranch General Manager

Midwest Floods
Photo: U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Jamie Titus

As you have likely seen in the news, historic flooding throughout the Midwest has tragically caused multiple deaths, billions of dollars of damage, and washed away homes, businesses and roads. Farmers and ranchers are being hit hard with flooded farm buildings and equipment, submerged fields and stranded livestock. I saw the aftermath myself while traveling in Nebraska two weeks ago and agree with Governor Pete Ricketts’ description of “unbelievable devastation.” Unfortunately, local residents are bracing for more flooding as spring rain continues and snow pack melts with warming days.

Many of Niman Ranch’s farmers are in this path of destruction. It’s been a tough winter already with record breaking cold snaps and so much snow that many farmers ran out of space to put it. While most of our farmers have gotten through the recent bouts of flooding relatively unscathed, we can’t say that is the case for all. Here is just one story featured in the Washington Post from a Niman Ranch farmer, Kyle Tubbs, whose farm was directly hit by the floods.

Kyle Tubbs in Craig, Mo., about 90 miles north of Kansas City, hauled all 400 of his hogs to higher elevations on Saturday afternoon, losing only one animal in the transition. The only building on his farm not underwater is his house, which he raised nine feet after the floods of 2010 and 2011. Tubbs is four days into this flood, the third in 10 years, and he said it’s far from over.

“There’s such a volume of water up in the Dakotas, we’ll be battling this all summer. Our rivers are managed so terribly.”

He’s reduced to using his boat for transport. When he looks out to the south, all he can see is water.

“I’m on the only oceanfront property in Missouri.”

While we usually focus on sunnier days on the farm, I thought it was important to share this story with our friends, partners and customers so folks can better understand the situation many farmers are currently facing. Farming is a challenging line of work with significant risk.

It’s an unfortunate fact that far too many in our country take the food on their dinner table for granted. In light of the news, we’ere especially thankful for our food and the people who produce it. We value their work today and everyday.

A farmer’s life will never be easy. But we remain hopeful. Farming communities are resilient, rallying to support each other and their neighbors to help everyone get back on their feet and on their land. We are staying in close communication with our farmers and keeping an eye on the weather. We will help impacted communities in any way we can – starting with donations of Niman Ranch products to families in need.

Thank you for taking the time to read this and thank you for supporting the Niman Ranch family of small, independent farmers and ranchers.

Please hold the Niman Ranch community and others in the Midwest in your thoughts and, if you are able to do so, consider making a donation to support those most hurt by this natural disaster.

Can Do Attitude

Recently, I met a retired math teacher from Osage, Iowa.  He said that he was so fortunate to have a majority of rural children in his classes.   He told me farm kids were great at learning new concepts and applying them because of their daily experience with this type of thinking on the farm.   Farming is all about problem solving, so if you didn’t know how to do something, you have to figure it out. That’s not much different than math.  This gets at the heart of what I loved about farm life.  There was always something to figure out.


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New Years on the Farm

New Years on the farmAs the snow falls in the country, it tucks us in for winter as it blankets the fields. It’s beautiful and peaceful, but as soon as the temperatures plunge our thoughts immediately turn toward our pigs.   Time to bundle up, put on those insulated coveralls, hats, scarves, gloves and rubber boots and head outside to make sure the livestock are doing well and our hog waters are working more

Giving Thanks

Recently, while I was representing our farmers at Chipotle Mexican Grill’s Cultivate Festival in Miami, I was asked why it matters how we treat our livestock on the farm if we plan to eat them in the end anyway.  I have thought a lot about this subject over the years, ever since I was a little girl on our farm tending the animals that I loved so dearly.  Most farmers take pride in their care of for the livestock.  Here are a few of the reasons why I believe farm animal welfare matters.


Sarah's daugher, Sophia, at a young age with Sarah's father, Paul Willis, on the family farm.
Sarah’s daugher, Sophia, at a young age with Sarah’s father, Paul Willis, on the family farm.

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Recycling in the Farm Fields

As the daylight hours shorten, the landscape gradually transforms from the rich greens of summertime into various autumn shades of gold in the farm fields.  On the farm, that means one thing: harvest time! On our farm, we mainly grow field corn, soybeans, oats and hay. Some of these we grow organically, whereas others we use more conventional methods.


recycling on the farm
Sarah’s father, Paul Willis, with some farrowing hogs in the winter.

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Rural All American Apple Pie

Sarah Willis at her family apple tree.


We have an old apple tree that grows right next to our gas barrel here on the farm.  Admittedly this is not an ideal location, but these are the very best apples for making apple pie.  My grandmother planted a crabapple tree (the only native apple tree to North America) there many years ago.  In the wild, apples are highly heterozygous and don’t grow true to the subspecies of seed.  Apples of all varieties are created by grafting trees onto a hardier apple root stock. This is how our favorite apple originated: from the root stock of the original crabapple, a separate seedling grew into another tree.  We are not sure what kind it is but believe it to be a Mackintosh.

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Summer on the Prairie

We’re kicking off summer with our annual Picnic on the Prairie, where we host Niman Ranch hog farmers, our country neighbors and local community.  It’s a potluck, so we ask guests to bring something homemade with seasonal, local, and sustainable ingredients.  We plan our picnic around the Summer Solstice to celebrate the vibrant abundance brought on by the summer months.

Joyce Lock, creator of Foodie Fight, at the Farmer Picnic on the Prairie.
Joyce Lock, creator of Foodie Fight, at the Farmer Picnic on the Prairie.

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What I Learned from My Father

Paul Willis on the family farm.
Paul Willis, Sarah’s father, on the family farm.

When Father’s Day has arrived, I find myself reminiscing about my dad and my childhood growing up on our farm in rural Thornton, Iowa.  My mom was in charge of our household and proudly introduced herself as a “farm wife”.  She cooked three meals a day and washed our dishes by hand.  My father was in charge of the farm work. He was a bit untraditional in that fact that he liked to cook as well.

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National Young Farmers Coalition: Building a Future for Young Farmers Across America

According to the latest USDA Census of Agriculture, farmers over the age of 65 outnumber farmers under the age of 35 by a ratio of 6-to-1. While the average age of a Niman Ranch farmer is 48 years old, the average age in America sits at 58 years. What opportunities exist to grow the number of young farmers nationally?

Because of a host of barriers not faced by previous generations, many young farmers are unable to start their own farm or take over the family business. We’ve seen issues range from skyrocketing land prices and student loan debt to difficulty taking out reasonable loans or finding reliable work. Inheriting land isn’t enough to allow for a farm to thrive financially these days, and with more than one child in many farm families, most of those who vie to take over have to find their own land regardless.

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