Monday, October 11, 2010

What is "large scale industrial" agriculture ?

Given that some of my blog readers may not have first hand farm backgrounds, and given that some of those that do may be reading this from another country where the situation is very different, I think I need to clarify the size and scope of what quantifies large scale, industrial agriculture in 2010 here in the US. As you'll quickly see, I'm not talking here about someone milking 200 cows.

Locally, we have one hog "farmer" and three chicken "farmers".

The hog "farmer" is a mini-integrartor. His contract growers will finish upward of 600,000 market hogs for him this year. Put another way, this farm is sending 12,000 hogs a WEEK to market ! This pales in comparison when compared to the real integators in the midwest and VA/NC. They might market 100,000 hogs a week.

To put this in perspective, a good sized independent Ontario hog farm in the area I grew up might market somewhere between 50 and 200 hogs a week.

I don't know how many chickens the chicken integrators have locally, beyond saying a hell of a lot. I do know that each complex has a feed mill and a good feed mill at a working complex will put out upward of 10,000 ton of feed a week, solely for their own birds. I think it'd be a reasonable extrapolation to say that our three local integrators are putting 30,000 ton of feed a week through their own birds. Put another way, 30,000 ton is 60 million pounds of feed. A week.

A good sized family dairy in this part of the world might milk somewhere between 200 and 400 cows. In Ontario, thanks to quota, the average dairy farm might be milking nearer to 50 cows. Here in TN, neither our topography nor climate are suited to industrial dairies, but in parts of the southern midwest not too far away from here, dairies in excess of 5000 milk cows are becoming routine, with the largest approaching 30,000 cows at this writing.

Agriculture practiced on this scale requires legions of employees, strict protocols, etc. It truly is industrial in it's mindset and outlook. When I talk about industrial agriculture and compare it to what Melissa and I do, this is the scale to which I am comparing it. There are lots of smaller farms that share the industrial mindset, but this is where it comes from. I'm not condemning it, but I'm not interested in farming this way, either.

Can you imagine the owner of any of the aforementioned entities passing his workday all day by himself in a pair of cutoff shorts building himself an office ? If you CAN picture an agribusiness CEO out hammering nails while attired in "business casual" in 90 degree heat, do you picture someone who is happy about what he's doing ? :)


Sylvia said...

I'm interested in the quota of 50 cows. What's that all about?

Jason said...

Dairy farmers in every province operate under a quota system. Basically they buy the right to sell a set quantity of milk for a set (high) price. Because quota is *extremely* expensive, it tends to limit herd size and expansion potential. At current prices, buying the right to add another cow's worth of milk to your tank every day would cost upward of CAD $35,000.

Last I heard, farm price for milk was right around USD $31.00/cwt. For comparison, the milk price average in TN for the past twelve months has been around $ 14.00/cwt.

Jack said...

The average dairy farm here in Ontario is about 75 cows with the largest being between 750 and 1000.
There is great consternation amongst some of the large producers in particular that they can not buy any more quota - they don't seem to understand the the Canadian milk marketing system is not based on "the bigger the better"! (The quota price has been frozen and there are few producers leaving the market at this time that puts quota on the market.)
Food is really a local thing and it is disconcerting to see American and Canadian agriculture caught up in the idea that it is their duty to feed the world.
If one looks around the world hungry people are in most cases the result of political decisions not for a lack of food or the availability of cheap imports.
I applaud what you are doing - both your farm enterprises and this blog.

Jack said...

Teh price of quota has been frozen at I believe $27,000 per kg of butter fat. This gives you the right to ship 1 kg of butterfat per day during the year.
The price had risen to about 35,000per kg when the price was frozen. The quota trades on bid system but with a common clearing price. Although not everyone would agree with me the Canadian system allows the farmer to capture a significant portion of the retail price of the dairy products, although the dairies (processing plants) do a lot of whining they have a secure supply of milk to process and they deal with the Dairy Farmers of Ontario not the individual farmers. It is an interesting observation that the dairies that are active in Canada are also very successful around the world - some have their headquarters here others came here after our system was in place.
Canda does not export very much dairy prodcut and does not import very much. By not interferring in the world market we have been left on our own which has worked very well until some prodcuers think they should have the opportunity to produce as much as they want rather than sharing the existing market.

Jason said...


Thanks ! (I'm getting a swelled head!)

I especially like your comment about not necessarily trying to feed the world, and it sure shows how easily people get brainwashed.

I literally stopped a large meeting I was at when I took vocal exception to the "feed the world" statement. I had heard this particular speaker tell that tale one too many times.

Feeding the world might be nice, but as near as I know, my first obligation as a farmer is to provide a decent living in order to feed my family.

The only people who consistently repeat that line are those in agribusiness (or their mouthpieces)who are trying to sell the latest yield boosting concept to farmers.

To me, food and farming; tilling soil and tending after critters is a very personal thing. I wouldn't have it any other way.