Everywhere I turn, I hear the words “factory farm” and I hear nails on a chalkboard. I read “industrial farming” and I cringe. These words make me upset because they are fictitious labels placed on people that I care about – and they are meaningless.
My dad, both grandpas, and my great grandpas before them were farmers. My uncles, my cousins, and even some of the folks that married into the family are farmers. My board members (whom I love and enjoy very much!) and many of my friends are farmers. And no matter how many acres they farm or how little grain they yield, they aren’t the face of “factory farming.”
And yet, they are. Because here’s the secret. Lean in. Closer.
Factory farming isn’t real. At least, not the image of factory farming you have in your head. It’s like Hogwarts or the Emerald City.
1. BIG FARMERS ARE STILL FAMILY FARMERS
The folks in my family, my friends, and the board member farmers that I love all farm various amounts of acreage. Some are in charge of large farms, some are caring for smaller numbers of acres. Some are very technologically advanced (in fact, I often learn things when I visit their farms!) and some are still farming the way that I remember my dad farming when I was a little girl.
We tend to think of industrialized farmers as having large acres, massive amounts of technology, and a distance from the land.
But there is literally no farmer that I have ever heard of in my lifetime in this industry that is taking orders from some CEO in a corner office in another state. Whether big or small, technologically advanced or still operating like we did in the 80s, every farmer is a husband, mother, brother, or aunt whose main goal is to support their family and leave the land better off than they received it.
2. BIG FARMERS BECOME BIG TO FEED THEIR FAMILIES
As the number of farmers in your family grows, the number of acres you must farm or the number of head of livestock you must raise has to grow as well. This just makes sense, right?
In today’s economic climate, most small farmers have one of three situations that enable them to remain small:
- They have a spouse that works off the farm that makes a good living or they also work off the farm to supplement their farm income.
- They own their farm acres instead of renting them – probably thanks to a couple of generations before them that worked their butts off.
- They grow some sort of specialty crop for which they receive a premium that gives them the extra income to stay small.
Minus those situations, a farmer has to become bigger to support his family. That’s it. There are few other choices.
When sons and daughters come back to the farm, or when sons get married and think about supporting a family instead of just themselves, farms get larger. They have to.
3. BIG AG COMPANIES ARE IMPORTANT TO THE INDUSTRY – AND THE WORLD
Innovation is expensive. Think about new medications, new phone technology, new cars, and new computers. Research and development, safety and efficiency trials, marketing and PR – it all gets expensive.
But innovation is worth it. It moves us forward. It saves lives, improves lives, changes lives.
Genetically modified food is technology too. New seed and chemical technology changes farmer’s lives by helping them produce more with less, and improving their bottom line. New machinery and technology helps them to farm more acreage with less effort and improves their economies of scale. That equals very real benefits to the families they are trying to feed.
Big ag companies are innovators. And yes, farmers grumble about the costs they pay for the innovation, but they always pay it because it’s worth it. You probably grumble about the cost of the latest iPhone or new TV technology, but you pay it because it’s worth it.
Except different from iPhones and TVs, big ag companies are helping to feed the world and change lives for those in underprivileged countries.
So, is big ag bad? My answer would be no.
I believe most non-farmers think of a “factory farmer” when they think of big ag – a farmer that is not invested in his land and is taking orders from someone who only cares about profit. That sort of agriculture does not exist in my experience in the industry.
Non-farmers probably also think of big ag corporations, but they aren’t bad either. They are creating solutions for our future and helping to feed and change lives of millions of humans across the world.
Big ag is a solution, not a problem.