Case Study - Making More Off of Less: The Plight of the American Farmer

In Alabama, family farmers struggle to survive

The changing landscape of American agriculture has presented a dynamic challenge for the American farmer in the past several decades. Globalization of markets, new technologies such as genetically modified seed, trends toward safer and diminished use of agricultural chemicals, the local foods movement, economies-of-scale, the burgeoning growth in the organic sector, and environmental sustainability concerns for soil and water resources, have all contributed to new challenges for a sustainable American food and fiber system. Farmers and ranchers are resilient by nature. The stewardship of natural resources, provision of a healthy and nutritious food supply, and the demands of economic survival in a marketplace where risk management is often beyond their control will no doubt raise the stakes for those working to advance sustainable American agriculture.

Family farms overview: (reprinted from USDA CSREES, 2011) The vast majority of farms and ranches in the United States are family owned and operated. USDA classifies family farms as “any farm organized as a sole proprietorship, partnership, or family corporation. Family farms exclude farms organized as nonfamily corporations or cooperatives, as well as farms with hired managers” (USDA, Economic Research Service 2007 Family Farm Report). Under this definition, the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s 2007 Census of Agriculture reported that family farms account for almost 96 percent of the 2,204,792 farms in the United States.

For further study: After 10,000 Years of Agriculture, Whither Agronomy? "...As if the challenge for agronomists to double global food output within the next four-plus decades were not weighty enough, demand for nonfood biomass is accelerating. The task ahead centers not only on the necessity to produce humanity's food and biomass requirements, but whether agronomists and their allied partners can deliver this productivity in an ecologically sustainable manner through socially accepted production systems."

About the film: The 20-minute documentary, Making More Off of Less - The Plight of the American Farmer, highlights the struggles of small farmers. The film is directed and edited by Andrew Reed. The general public is unaware of modern farming technologies, and how difficult it is for farmers to even stay in business. This documentary is designed to provide insight into the lives of farmers, and offer them a chance to defend their farming technologies and methods. Film used with permission.

The social, environmental, and economic sustainability of American agriculture is a complex topic. In the film, Making More Off of Less - The Plight of the American Farmer, the creative young filmmaker Andrew Reed deftly accesses some of the lives of those who grow our food and fiber. Told by those who labor in agriculture, the work is an authentic and reflective exposition on family farmers in rural Alabama, trying to sustain a livelihood in a marketplace where the economics of production can demand dependence on genetically modified seed, agricultural chemicals, technology, and expensive farm equipment. The work contributes to our analysis of modern American agriculture where more questions than answers are often found. Smooth editing and artistic use of sound and image composition adds to the quality of this exceptional work. -GM

About the filmmaker: Andrew Reed earned a B.S. degree in Communication Arts with an emphasis on Entertainment Media Production from the University of North Alabama and attended graduate school at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa where he earned a M.A. in Telecommunication and Film in 2010. In addition to being an independent filmmaker and producer, Reed is an adjunct instructor at the University of North Alabama, teaching media production courses.