Size Matters: From an Energy and Environmental Standpoint, the Larger the Livestock Farm the Better (part 1)

July 31, 2008 at 7:00 am 1 comment

This is a guest post from Tom Cully, a student at Indiana Wesleyan. This post covers the ‘hot button’ topic of livestock operations. This and subsequent posts will be based on an excellent paper that Mr. Cully wrote. I will publish his paper over the course of several posts.

I had the opportunity to meet Mr. Cully while he was helping with a Master Gardener project in Van Wert as part of his Niswonger Scholarship.

Introductory Statement

Large scale farming, of livestock in particular, is the gateway to meeting demands set forth by the rapidly growing appetite of a rapidly growing population. When correctly engineered and managed, large farms produce a higher quality product that costs less, is environmentally friendly, and can even be beneficial.

Background

Agriculture has played a pivotal role in the foundation of this beloved nation since before the time of the Native Americans. It has not only provided a strong supply of nutrition throughout the years, it has been integral in the formation of culture, ethic, and value accepted by so many. For today’s citizens, the pictures and stories are still common of a time, not so long ago, that consisted of horse drawn rides into town and waking up by the rooster’s crow to milk the cow and gather the eggs. In fact, most of this generation’s grandparents and even some of its parents have lived in this unforgettable era. The days of farming the same small farm that has been passed down from generation to generation are over, and the days of working at the farm across town harvesting ten thousand acres of crops or raising tens, and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of animals are upon us.

Nearly a century ago, as the industrial revolution swept the globe, so too did the agricultural revolution. Along with booms of factories, assembly lines, and streamlining, came the booms of bigger farms, bigger equipment, and bigger quotas. The decreasing profitability of the small farm along with the increasing demand for cheaper food from a growing population of both the first and third worlds resulted in extreme pressure on farm owners to increase in size. Farmers then realized that if an industrial attitude was applied to agricultural techniques, much larger quantities of food for far less money of higher quality could be attained. This large scale boom was made possible by advances in technology along with access to cheap land and labor. The growth was nearly a complete success, until the test of time and extensive research showed that the environment was reaping heavy losses. In fact, studies even began to emerge that showed significant health concerns associated with the newly dubbed “factory farms.” The government also started to take action against the growing environmental hazards, with three major constitutional amendments in six years. These actions consisted of the Animal Welfare Act of 1966, the Clean Air Act of 1970, and the Clean Water Act of 1972. It was not until the early 1980’s however, that the animal rights and welfare issues really exploded. Activists and supporters became concerned that animals were being treated unfairly and in an inhumane manner. The previously existing Animal Welfare Act was amended twice in only five years and research facilities across the nation began to change. Yet despite the developing controversy, large farms continued to survive and even thrive as the demand for a more quality product continued to increase.

Farms are generally classified according to acreage farmed or number of livestock raised. The census preformed in 2002 by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), suggests that the number of farms in the largest category have increased, while all other farm sizes have decreased over the past several decades. Other studies have proven the increasing popularity of the large farms, but nevertheless, farmers, activists, the government, and the public are in an escalading feud over the best course of action for dealing with the possible concerns of what are commonly referred to as confined animal feeding operations (CAFO). Each party in this web of disagreement have the same long term goals of more products, better products, and cheaper products, however, the general means of accomplishing those goals are the cause for debate. The general areas of current debate lie in the effects of pollution in regards to living health and the environment, economics, and ethics. Presently, the perfect combination of cooperation between supporting and opposing parties does not exist, but maybe a time will come when farm size does not matter and agriculture can truly fulfill its role by leading the way to a refurbished nation.

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This blog is no longer being maintained. Information on this blog may still be relevant, but for the latest agronomic information and farm management information please visit http://corn.osu.edu and http://ohioagmanager.osu.edu, respectively.

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