Food for thought, pennies for farmers

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For decades, my dad complained that people didn’t understand how little of the food dollar goes to the farmers who grow the food. Every time the farmer’s price went up — for milk or corn or pigs — the grocery store price went up by even more. When the farmer’s price went down, the grocery store price usually didn’t follow in that direction.

It’s still true. And when I stopped at the State Fair, I picked up a flyer at the Farmers Union booth, showing how much the farmer gets for the food dollars spent. Here’s a quiz with numbers from that flyer, which come from Safeway retail prices and USDA-reported farm prices. The answers are at the end of this column. 

1) Everybody loves bacon! For a pound of bacon retailing for $6.06, how much does the farmer get?

a) $3.02

b) $4.01

c) $1.26

d) $0.05

2) Wheat growers across the country contribute to our daily bread. For a two-pound loaf of bread costing, $2.19, the farmer gets:

a) $1.01

b) $0.75

c) $0.26

d) $0.15

3) Fresh produce doesn’t have much value added by processing, right? And it’s a bargain: five pounds of fresh carrots sell for $4.39, less than a dollar a pound and packed with nutrition. How much of that $4.39 does the farmer get?

a) $3.75

b) $3.06

c) $2.01

d) $1.26

4) Whether or not milk is nature’s nearly perfect food, it’s near the top of many grocery lists. In the Safeway grocery example, one gallon of skim milk retails for $4.09. How much of that goes back to the farmer? (Milk costs less in Minnesota than in the example — and I won’t even try to explain the complicated milk marketing rules.)

a) $3.25

b) $2.01

c) $1.75

d) $0.88 

5) Ten and a half ounces of Lays potato chips cost $4.79. You might guess that with all that processing, the farmer wouldn’t get much of your potato chip dollar, and you’d be right — only 23 cents goes to the farmer. But what if you buy the whole potatoes? Five pounds of Russet potatoes retail for $4.69. What does the farmer get?

a) $3.56

b) $2.35

c) $1.15

d) $0.55

Overall, farmers and ranchers receive a little less than 16 cents of every food dollar that consumers spend on food. Most of the food dollar goes to marketing, advertising, transportation, distribution, wholesale, and retail. Of course, if you buy direct from the farmer, she or he gets a lot more of your food dollar. Here’s a list of St. Paul Farmers Market locations and days, and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture Minnesota Grown page


1) The farmer gets $1.26 of the $6.06 you pay for a pound of bacon.

2) The farmer gets just fifteen cents of the retail price of $2.19 for a two-pound loaf of bread. (If you buy five pounds of flour for $2.39, the farmer gets a somewhat higher percentage — 73 cents.)

3) For fresh carrots, the farmer gets $1.26 of the $4.39 retail price.

4) In the example, one gallon of skim milk costs $4.09, and the farmer’s share is just under half of that — $2.01.

5) Sadly, the farmer doesn’t get much of your potato dollar — just 55 cents of the $4.39 price of a five-pound bag of potatoes.


For more information on the farmer’s share of the food dollar, see the National Farmers Union website.

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