I’ve been thinking lately about the term “factory farm.” I know it angers animal agriculture producers, and it hacks me off, too—I think because it’s spit out of the mouths and keyboards of agriculture’s enemies like a vile and evil thing. Perhaps we overreact. It’s past time I looked into this. Maybe it’s not such a bad thing overall.Texas Farm Bureau: Factory farms not so bad after all

The Internet is such a handy tool. It’s almost like an information factory. It would have taken hours with my old Webster’s to find all the appropriate definitions, but it took only minutes online. Here’s what several online dictionaries had to say about a “factory.”

 A building where goods are manufactured or assembled chiefly by machine. A building or group of buildings in which goods are manufactured; a plant

Agriculture, including animal agriculture, fits this to some degree. There are machines that plant and harvest crops. There are machines that milk cows and provide clean food and water to chickens and other livestock.

 A productive place: a place or organization that produces a particular thing regularly and in some quantity

 This one fits, too. U.S. agriculture feeds much of the world—regularly and in quantities that other parts of the world can only imagine.  A productive place?  Darn right—productivity unmatched anywhere in the world

 A building or set of buildings with facilities for manufacturing. A building or other place where manufacturing takes place

I won’t argue with this one, either. Some parts of animal agriculture, especially, need buildings to protect animals from the elements and predators and to keep the feed and water clean.

Now, we need to look at a couple of definitions of manufacturing.

 Something made from raw materials by hand or by machinery

 The process of making wares by hand or by machinery, especially when carried on systematically with division of labor; a productive industry using mechanical power and machinery

Well, I’ll be… These sort of fit too! Animal agriculture producers take the raw materials—grass and grain—and “manufacture” protein for human food. As described before, there is machinery.

To be fair, there were mentions of “industrial” in some of the definitions. This is another of the “bad words” by which agriculture is often attacked, but it also hints at efficiency and cost control.

All these words—“factory, manufacture, industrial” and others—can be used in various ways to suit your purpose. There is some resemblance to factories in what agriculture does. Think of it this way. A great big chunk of the American population decided about 100 years ago they wanted to leave the farm and lead a new and different life. They did so in droves to work in places that fit the conventional definition of factories. The development of these places led to lower costs and ready availability of a wide range of goods. 

The farmers who were left had to get more efficient or go out of business. All this happened. The result is now evidenced in grocery stores where Americans spend on average less than 10 percent of their income to feed themselves. The “factory farms” of U.S. agriculture produce a generally safe and healthy product that almost anyone can afford. These same factory farms create jobs—about 20 percent of the jobs in the U.S.

There would be consequences for outlawing this kind of agriculture. We can send everyone back to the farm. We can all keep some chickens, a milk cow and grow a garden.

Some do this. Not all can or even want to. Of course, there is room in the market for organic and locally grown food. No harm at all in supplying those markets of consumers who are willing to pay. Of course, many of these farms are “factories,” too. There is also another choice. Pay more…a heck of a lot more, and learn to live with shortages. 

There is some resemblance to modern, efficient and beneficial factories and U.S. farms. I’ve always wondered what factory farming meant. After my little research project, I understand it a little better. 

 

 

 

 

Gene Hall

Public Relations Director
Texas Farm Bureau
I believe that the only hope for a food secure world is capitalism and reasonable profits for America’s farm and ranch families–that the first element of sustainability is economic survival.
Follow Gene on Twitter and Facebook.

16 Responses to “Factory farming not so bad after all”

  1. I once had a farmer tell me he was proud to call his farm a "factory". He reasoned we bought our shoes, clothes and other items from a factory. It is where these items are manufactured.

    Makes sense to me.

  2. Dale Murden says:

    I guess you’re right Gene…but out here on my turn row in the dog days of August it just doesnt have the feel of any factory Ive been in. Cant beat the sweet smell of cotton or fresh soil…even if my shirts soaked in sweat and I cant keep the gnats outta my eyes!

    The term FACTORY FARM is kind of like my other least favorite saying…SUSTAINABLE AGRICULTURE. I never did really get that one either.

  3. Robert Fleming says:

    Gene,

    I would say that most successful producers are factory farmers becuse one word comes to my mind is precision. That is when it comes to producing a safe, affordable, wholesome product to the consumer. We operate somewhat like a machine/factory always seasons, time deadlines to till the ground, apply fertilizer/chemicals, turn the bulls loose with the cows for a controlled breeding, to weaning calves to fulfill a conract or manage cash flow. We attend seminars and classes to be more profitable or learn about new technologies such as triple, double , sinlgle stacked traits in corn, proper injection site management, or venearal diseases in cattle. We are always laying awake some nights thinking outside the box, or having family dicussions at the dinner table on how to better mananage the cow herds. Well better go, one main part of my factory, my son, we are headed out checking cows in calving season.

    Robert

  4. Shane McLellan says:

    Typical American today does not understand that farmers are "price takers." Typical American does not know that the majority of the "farm bill" is ear marked for social welfare and NOT farmers. The typical American has no idea about the the risk involved in farming. I applaud your explanation of Factory Farming. I am often reminded that the average joe sees farmers as being incorporated. My definition of a corporation and the non-agriculture person would be very different. It is up to all of us to explain where are food comes from, the perils facing agriculture, and educate the common person what "the guy in that tractor" is doing.

  5. Billy B. Brown says:

    Gene, enjoyed your comments, but I consider my farm more than a factory. To me, factory seems somewhat impersonal while my family farm represents the personal toil and sweat of producers to bring food, fiber and fuel to Texas. I hope the personal producer contributions are not ever forgotten.

  6. Billy Bob – You are right, of course. I agree that a lot more than crops and livestock are grown on family farms and ranches of all size. I was trying to get a handle on some of these buzz words that extremists use to attack agriculture. I hope I established that there are some similarities – efficiency,quality, cost control – between factories and farms. I know that a widget factory anywhere could never match the labor of love that a farmer or rancher puts into the land.

    Gene

  7. Dane Sanders says:

    Gene,

    I enjoyed reading your blog and agree with you that being called a factory or corporate farm by definition is not all bad. What really aggravates me about this whole topic is how in the business world it is expected that businesses will ultimately grow, thrive, innovate, integrate, and produce high quality products at the lowest possible price, yet farms are criticized for doing exactly that. To the people out there criticizing farmers I would first off ask them if they have any idea the price of a new tractor is? We cannot afford to purchase the equipment we need to become as precise and as efficient as possible and only farm a quarter-section of land. It simply will not work on paper. The public complains about farms getting larger and larger in order to stay in business but I don’t hear them complaining at the grocery and department stores when they purchase the most inexpensive and safe food and fiber in the world. The U.S. public just doesn’t realize how good they have it when compared to other countries where people have to use upwards of 60% of their disposable income just to buy groceries. So my question to the world is why is it alright for businesses to grow and become more vertically integrated and more efficient but not for the farmer to do the same thing?

    Dane Sanders

  8. Interesting comments here – thanks to all. The current debate boils down to an argument over whether farmers are allowed to do what Dane says they must – expand, vertically integrate and make business decisions free from unreasonable restrictions – or, as some would argue – they must face the daunting challenge of feeding a 21st Centruy world with 19th Century production tools. Ford cannot comepete with their 1910, 1950 or even 1980 business model. Farmers can’t do it either.

    Gene

  9. There must be so much pressure on farmers these days to produce food for cheaper and cheaper prices and many farmers really do feel more like factory workers/managers than traditional farmers.

    I feel it is important for farming to maintain some of its traditional roots. The more our farms turn into factories (as they mostly are these days) the more our health, environment and animals suffer.

    I would certainly be willing to pay more for produce and give the farmers a fairer deal. I think it would do people good to eat some produce less, but pay more for it.

  10. Mike Barnett says:

    Catherine, I encourage you to talk to farmers. You will find they cherish their traditional roots and work the land and provide proper care for their livestock because that is what they love to do. I don’t think you’re going to find many farmers who feel like they are factory workers. What’s great about our food system is that if you want to pay more things such as locally grown food or free range chicken eggs or organic food, you can do so. Choice is something no farmer wants to take away from the consumer.

    Mike

  11. Catherine – my comments on "factory farming" were part of a somewhat tongue in cheek approach to highlight some of the similarities between manufacturing factories and modern farms. These similarities include efficiency, lower costs, adoption of technology and victimization by emotional and ill conceived attacks. The farmers and ranchers I know – quite a lot, actually – are in the business as a labor of love. While you cannot get around the fact that profit is THE critical element of any business operation, the abuses you fear are far from the norm. It’s like a factory in some ways, quite different in many others. And I am sure you are not advocating a law to force people to eat less. If not, you are quite right. Nearly all of us could afford to eat less – me included. I’m already regretting last night’s Super Bowl party. It’s commendable that you are willing to pay more, and you have the opportunity to shop for organic and local produce and reward the deserving farmers that produced it. Many poor people, however, do not have that option.

  12. I have a small wholesale nursery and would never consider it a factory. I have been in many large greenhouse operations and they are just like a factory.

    I have no desire to work in such conditions. I need to work as an individual with individual plants. I don’t want a sterile environment around me. I need to interact with the whole environment and feel the plants.

    Wow, I just can’t get what I want to say out clearly.

    Because I will not operate the nursery as a factory I do have to settle for less income because of the inefficiencies built into such a system. When the income falls to low and I am unable to support my family it will be time to sell the place and let someone else run it as a factory.

  13. You forgot to mention the fact that the conditions that chickens are raised in are horrid. Imagine a world where chickens are sold by the pound. And, those very same chickens are engineered to get to an abnormally large size. These are the chickens we are eating. Chickens that get so big they can’t even walk more than a few steps before collapsing. Now that is a factory.

  14. DVD I know you are mostly interested in getting your web link on my blog. We usually don’t post those but you did put some effort into it. But I mainly put it up so our readers could see what complete nonsense looks like!

  15. The conditions found in factory farms are not the fault of the farmers but of the consumers. the reason farmers go to such extremes in the first place is to provide for the demand of the masses. But that still does not justify what occurs in these farms nor does it mean the problem does not exist. it cannot be said that there is nothing wrong with a factory farm when you hear about debeaking, living space the size of a shoebox for chickens,constant impregnation of sows with living space so small they can hardly lay down, and pigs developing ORDS and ATDS form the noxious gases given of by their own waste. The truth behind what is happening in factory farms is not complete nonsense. The problem is here, it is real, and it’s about time we did something about it.

  16. sara Parsley says:

    I agree with Mark. Factory farming is based around the principle of producing much and spending little. Many factors in these facilities are unsanitary (animals live in their own filth causing great damage to surrounding towns) and unethical. Workers are exploited and vulnerable to unsafe conditions, resulting in physical abuse to animals in return. The testimonials of workers are easy to find online. I believe Americans should have greater standards to the things they put into their bodies and their children’s bodies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>