Solved Problem: Why Will No One Buy This Farm?

Supports:  Economics: Chapter 12 – Firms in Perfectly Competitive Markets (Section 12.5); Microeconomics: Chapter 12, Section 12.5; and Essentials: Chapter 9, Section 9.5

Solved Problem: Explaining Entry and Exit

An article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had the headline: “The Last Harvest: Beaver County Organic Farm Closes after Failure to Find Successor.” The article discusses the decision by a 71-year old famer to close down his organic vegetable farm after failing to find a buyer for it despite a 10-year search. Several people, including his four adult children, considered purchasing the farm but in end none did so. His only requirement in selling the farm was that the buyer use the land to grow organic crops. The famer was puzzled by his inability to find a buyer because “There’s money in organics.” The article notes that: “In a U.S. Department of Agriculture study, organic food products generally commanded a [price] premium exceeding 20% over conventionally grown vegetables.”

a. Does the fact that organically grown vegetables sell for prices that are 20 percent higher than the prices of conventionally grown vegetables mean that growing organic vegetables will earn a farmer a larger economic profit than growing vegetables using conventional methods? Briefly explain.

b. Is it likely that the requirement that a buyer had to agree to use the land only to grow organic vegetables affected the inability of the farmer to find a buyer? Briefly explain.

c. What is the likeliest explanation for the farmer being unable to find a buyer for his farm?

Source: Khris B. Mamula, “The Last Harvest: Beaver County Organic Farm Closes after Failure to Find Successor,” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, January 3, 2021.

Solving the Problem

Step 1:   Review the chapter material. This problem is about the reason that firms exit an industry, so you may want to review Chapter 12, Section 28.2 “If Everyone Can Do It, You Can’t Make Money at It.”

Step 2:   Answer part a. by discussing whether the fact that organic vegetables sell for higher prices than conventionally grown vegetables means that growing organic vegetables will earn a farmer a larger economic profit than growing vegetables using conventional methods. Profit depend on costs as well as prices. We’ve seen in this chapter that organic growing methods typically have higher costs than conventional growing methods. Therefore, the fact that organic vegetables sell for higher prices than conventionally grown vegetables doesn’t guarantee that farmers selling organic vegetables are earning an economic profit. In fact, in the long run we would expect that entry and exit will ensure that the price farmers sell vegetablesfor will just equal the average cost of growing them, whether the vegetables are grown organically or conentionally. In other words, in the long run the higher price of organic vegetables will just offset the higher cost of growthing them and farmers will earn a zero economic profit whichever method they use to grow vegetables.

Step 3:   Answer part b. by explaining whether the farme’s requirement that the farm be used only to grow organic vegetables affected his difficulty in finding a buyer. Generally when a firm exits a market, as this farmer is exiting the market for organic vegetables, the firm’s resources will be sold and used for other purposes. For example, when the market for renting videos collapsed, the buildings video rental stores had been in were used for other purposes. (A former Blockbuster video store near where one of the authors lives was converted into a tire store.) Or a resaurant serving Italian food may close and the tables, chairs, and ovens may be used by a restaurant serving Thai food that opens in the same building. By insisting that his farm only be used for growing organic vegetables, the farmer limited the number of buyers who would be interested in buying it. Anyone who wanted to use the land to grow vegetables using conventional methods or wanted to use it for a nonagricultural purpose would not buy the farm.

Step 4: Answer part c. by discussing the likeliest reason that the farmer was unable to find a buyer for his farm. We would expect that someone wanting to sell a firm that is earning an economic profit would have no trouble finding a buyer if the price being asked would allow a buyer to also earn an economic profit on the buyer’s investment. That the farmer in this article couldn’t find a buyer after 10 years of searching is an indication that a buyer of the farm at the price he was asking would at best break even. As noted in the answer to part b., that the farmer wouldn’t allow a buyer to use the land for any purpose other than organic farming reduced the number of potential buyers.