Survival Scenarios: the small farm

When the SHTF, how will the local small farm survive and thrive? What preparations can be made beforehand?

Half of all farms in the U.S. have 45 acres or less of cropland [1]. And there are about 2 million farms in the USA [2]. That is a lot of land divided into relatively small parcels, providing food for the nation.

But when the SHTF, the small farm might not be able to grow its usual set of crops for commercial sale. The economy might experience a collapse or partial collapse. The food economy might be greatly disrupted. So small farms will need to grow a larger range of foods, more focused on what the local population needs.

Seed Sources

Right now, you can find seeds for thousands of different food plants at grocery stores, gardening stores, hardware stores, and all over the internet. But when our fragile food economy collapses, gardening seeds will be, I would say, in the second tier of things that will sell out. (First tier is food items. It will take less than a day for every grocery store in the nation to be stripped bare. Note to self: good topic for future post.)

If you are a Prepper, you should have pounds of gardening seed stored for emergency use. “But I don’t have a garden.” You will need a survival garden, when the SHTF. “But I don’t have any land for a garden.” You will find gardening seeds useful anyway, as a bartering item. Also, preppers who live in the city will have no option but to migrate to a rural area, once the food economy collapses. Maybe you should move now.

Back to the topic of farms. Commercial seeds sources may dry up, once the SHTF. Small farms will need a range of different seeds from their usual crops. They will need seeds for plants that provide the three macronutrients: protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Saving seeds from one crop, to use for the next crop, will be essential. Yet many commercial seeds are designed NOT to work well when saved. F1 hybrids produce an unreliable second generation crop, whose characteristics are variable. For some GMO crops, it might be illegal to save and replant the seed. (Why Does Monsanto Sue Farmers Who Save Seeds?)

A prepper with a small farm should have a large amount of seed, non-GMO, non-hybrid (i.e. open pollinated), to use when the SHTF.

Fertilizer

A major disruption in the food economy might cause commercial fertilizer to be unavailable or excessively expensive. The small farm prepared for such a disruption will take care to have seed for cover crops (“green manure”) that can be used to improve the soil, and be well-versed in producing their own compost. Manure from farm animals can, of course, be used as well.

Machinery

Since small farms often specialize in growing only certain crops, they don’t necessarily have all the machinery that would be needed to plant, harvest, and process other crops. If a small farm tries to grow a wider range of crops to feed the local population, they will likely lack some of the necessary machinery. And those machines will be in high demand once the SHTF.

So a well-prepped farmer will think ahead, grow a wider range of crops, focusing on those food plants that are most useful for survival. And he or she will have the machinery needed for those crops. Having experience in growing a wider range of crops will also make the small farm more flexible when adapting to changing times.

One of the most important types of machinery that a small farm can have, which at the same time is absent from almost all small farms, is a medium sized oil press. Here is a review of six medium sized oil presses [PDF]. They can process oil seed in amounts from about 300 to 1500 lbs per 24 hours.

Right now, vegetable oil is cheap and plentiful. Stock up now. When the food economy collapses, veg oil will be in short supply. Here’s why: any gardener or small farmer can grow various grains, legumes, fruits, and vegetables. But producing veg oil requires specialized equipment. Most gardeners and farmers do not have oil presses. The vast majority of oil is pressed by relatively few, very large commercial companies. If the food economy collapses, no more vegetable oil.

Labor

The small farmer might have to pay his workers with a share of the crop as well as some money. When food is scarce, farm workers will steal food. It’s better to negotiate a fair share of the crop, so that your workers are happy and reliable. And you can’t reasonably expect them to accept only money for pay, when producing food, if money can’t buy food due to the collapse of the food economy.

The real problem is that a small farm produces a limited amount of food. Once you’ve shared that food with workers, it is even less. And then you have to consider the extra labor needed to protect crops in the field, and harvested crops in storage. Those workers will want food and money. If they are guarding the food, you can’t deny them a share of that food. It’s not practical or reasonable, not when money can’t buy food.

This leaves not much food left for sale. So the small farmer is essentially growing food for his extended family, the workers, and some portion left over to sell. Fortunately, in such a situation, food prices should be much higher. So the plan might work.

Gov’t Intervention

The real problem is that local, state, or federal government might intervene with various foolish laws and regulation, making the situation worse. Once a regulation is in place, it’s very difficult to get it removed, or to obtain an exception, no matter how dire the situation. A small farm that could produce food, if left to its own devices, might fail miserably when burdened by new laws from government.

When the food economy collapses, can the small farmer survive and thrive? It will be touch and go. I give it a 50:50 chance of success or failure.

– Thoreau

[1] Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming, USDA, ERS, Economic Research Report No. (ERR-152) 61 pp, August 2013

[2] Farms and Land in Farms 2014 Summary – US Department of Agriculture

3 Responses to Survival Scenarios: the small farm

  1. I recommend that all prepared folks without a farm consider a Piteba oil press. They cost about $100, well worth the cost to add your ability to produce oil for yourself, for barter, or as a fee-service to others that grow oil crops.

    This press cannot handle sunflowers well, but rapeseed works well. Get yourself 10 lbs of seed at your local ag center for about $15, and you can plant 2.5 acres, enough to produce 350-400 gallons of oil plus lots of seedcake for feedstock or emergency human protein supplement.

  2. @Bobcat-Prepper: Where the heck are you finding a Piteba-brand press for about $100? The best I’ve seen is over $150. Or are you talking about a generic Piteba-style press?

    Second, you need to be careful with rapeseed. Rapeseed oil is generally considered inedible because of levels of glucosinolates and erucic acid being too high. They did breed this out of a strain in the 1970s and called the result “canola”. Now Monsanto sells Roundup Ready canola. So you need to watch what exactly it is you are getting.

  3. I like this article and the page. I’m a prepper since 2 years a go, I´m from Mexico, here some people still use mule for cultivate corn and the seed are 100% organics. The only problem are thefts.
    Regards.