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Does Walmart Have a Vendetta Against Small Farmers?

Sunday, September 13th, 2015

In 2010, Walmart (WMT) vowed to double its sales of locally grown produce by 2015. It was an attempt to both increase the amount of local foods in stores (as part of its environmental and sustainability initiatives) and invigorate local economies by supporting small farmers.

Walmart has already blasted through its goal of selling 9 percent local produce — 11 percent of the produce in stores now comes from farms near them. Yet despite Walmart’s boast that this shift “saved customers over $1 billion on fresh fruits and vegetables,” small farmers haven’t benefited at all, according to a recent NPR report.

Which raising an interesting question: Is that Walmart’s fault, or is it the farmers choosing this path?

The Walmart Way

The problem from Walmart’s perspective is that, as a low-price, high-volume business, it needs three things from its produce suppliers: cheap fruits and vegetables (to remain competitive), consistent products (so customers’ expectations are always met), and high volume (to maintain quick turnover of products it sells).

But these things are difficult — if not impossible — for small farmers to achieve. They have to charge higher prices to cover the costs of their operations (because they don’t make up for it in large volume); they’re limited to seasonal produce and are greatly affected by the weather; and their volume is much smaller than industrialized farming operations.

So, in reality, a prime reason Walmart may not be sourcing more from small farms is because of the logistical hurdles it would present.

What Farmers Want

One the other side of the equation, many small farmers are adamantly opposed to Walmart and refuse to do business with the world’s largest retailer, regardless of any possible advances on Walmart’s part.

Alternative farming evangelist Joel Salatin bluntly declared in the 2008 documentary “Food,” “I have no desire to be at Walmart.” As he explained, because of Walmart’s business model he would be forced to view his customers, his products, and his business completely differently to fuel the growth Walmart would demand.

For him, maintaining the integrity of his small enterprise and the values he espouses is more important than whatever increase having Walmart as a client could bring to his business. Anecdotal evidence points to similar opinions holding true among many small farmers.

Harvesting the Blame

I reached out via email to Ron McCormick, senior director of Local and Sustainable Sourcing at Walmart, to hear straight from the source what is going on. Unfortunately, his office hasn’t yet responded to me. So I can only speculate.

But, as with most things business, it’s likely a combination of both factions.

Walmart’s size forces it to seek out only those partners who can achieve the high volume it needs. Small farmers prefer the direct in-person relationships they develop and nurture with their customers, which would be lost if Walmart were their middleman.

In the end, the status quo is probably best for both sides: Walmart achieves its business agenda (though admittedly, not by helping small farmers), while small farmers maintain the integrity and relationships they hold most important.

Knapsack Sprayers

Safety Tips for Working With Agricultural Chemicals

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

All of these chemicals need to be treated with great respect as if misused they may be detrimental to your health or that of any livestock around the farm.

Unfortunately though, it’s not unusual to see bad practices adopted when handling chemicals, often due to a degree of complacency which arises from over-familiarity.
So, without any apologies, here are a few very basic safety tips that should already be common practice but which aren’t always adopted.

1. Read the instructions carefully. If that sounds blindingly obvious, numbers of studies have shown that many people consistently fail to read the safety and usage instructions on products before opening them up and starting to use them.

2. Wear goggles when handling any form of industrial or agricultural chemical. Although not all will necessarily be dangerous if they get into your eye, many will be. Even if they are not, it’s a smart idea to keep chemicals out of your body and your eyes.

3. Always use gloves. There are two reasons you should do so. The first is to stop chemicals getting on to your hands and then being accidentally transferred to foodstuffs – be they yours or those of your animals. The second is because it’s not unusual for hands to carry cuts and abrasions and that’s a good entry point for chemicals into your bloodstream.

4. In the same line of advice, always use a mask when dealing with powdered chemicals. Even if they are granular, when being handled they will throw up dust and it’s always a good idea to keep dust out of your respiratory system, particularly when it is of a chemical nature.

5. Keep chemicals well away from your livestock unless they are specifically approved for such use. Some animals will eat almost anything they can.

6. Don’t let children play anywhere near your stored chemicals or handle them – at least not if they are younger kids. Basic common sense safety precautions that are routine to you can be forgotten in an instant by children – however hard you’ve lectured them beforehand.

7. Where chemical products need to be mixed or diluted prior to use, make sure you keep to the recommended quantities. Don’t guess or throw lots of extra in for ‘good measure’. That can sometimes turn what should be a relatively harmless product into something that is overly-strong and potentially dangerous.

8. Use some form of a protective and non-porous overalls, particularly when spraying. You should be able to pick those up from a farm machinery trader or similar. True, you probably don’t want to make yourself look like an extra in a science fiction movie but chemicals can penetrate ordinary porous clothes and overalls and they can then easily be transported into the home when washing etc.

9. Finally, make sure that you understand all state regulations relating to what chemicals may or may not be used on your farm, for a specific purpose or in a given vicinity. Some chemicals may, for example, be perfectly permissible but only if they are used a specified distance away from a water source.

Chemical awareness is much greater today than it has been in the past. Even so, many people in the agricultural industry will admit that there is always scope for improvement.