Sunday, July 29, 2012

Factory Farms: An Issue of Scale

Factory farm or family farm?
As a concerned mother, wife, and fellow consumer I can understand how the idea of a “factory farm” can scare, anger, or even confuse the general public. However, as a farmer’s wife and pork producer I must ask what is a “factory farm” anyway?

I have found through reading blog posts, tweets, and FB comments that the biggest defining factor for “factory farms” is an issue of scale. The bigger the farm the more likely it will be categorized as a “factor farm.” Technology also plays a role in people’s perception. The more we utilize technology the more we are all lumped into a corporate farming pile.

But does a larger scale of farming make you a factory/corporate farmer or a successful/sustainable farmer?

We raise 26,000 pigs over the course of a year plus several hundred acres of corn and soybeans. We utilize modern farming techniques to make us more efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly. Because we are larger in scale and have modern techniques does that make us factory farmers or successful farmers?

Fertilizer--knifing hog manure
We also participate in contract farming. We contract pig space and have manure spreading agreements with local farmers. This means that we “rent” pig space in our barn and—as a family—raise company owned pigs in our family owned and operated barns. The manure spreading agreements help fellow farmers reduce fertilizer costs while still putting needed nutrients into the ground in the form of a natural fertilizer. By farming in this way our farm has grown large enough to support four separate households—all of which are family members. So, are we factory farmers or family farmers?

I suppose the biggest issue here isn’t scale, technology, or even technique; instead it seems to be a matter of perception. The original 50 acre farm with a few dirt hogs wasn’t enough to maintain a growing family and by utilizing modern farming practices we were able to grow in size and support four separate family households.

To me this says successful farming because it is done responsibly; however, many don’t agree with that. It would seem there is a double standard in farming. If any other business grows in size over the course of years and is able to employ more people it is seen as a successful business and the business owner is considered to be living the “American dream.” However, if we place a farmer in this same scenario the farmer is considered a “corporate sell-out” or “factory farmer” instead of being seen as successful. Why is this? Why can’t farms be large in scale but still maintain family values and ownership?

So I ask again: What is a “factory farm” anyway?

1 comment:

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