Size Matters: From an Energy and Environmental Standpoint, the Larger the Livestock Farm the Better (part 2)

August 7, 2008 at 7:00 am 2 comments

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.

Part 1 – Introduction

Supporting Debate

Among those who tend to favor the larger farms are the farm owners themselves and the government. Only a portion of the general public is in support of the farms and very few private organizations actually advocate the cause. Among those private groups, such as the National Cattleman’s Association and the American Stock Yard’s Association, farmers themselves comprise most of their membership. However, the minority of individuals and organizations who do support the large farms do so with legitimate reasoning.

One reason, waste management, receives a lot of attention on a large operation. With strategic planning and proper execution of waste management practices, the excess waste can potentially be beneficial. Reports have shown that when adequate practices are implemented, such as balancing aerobic and anaerobic microbial digestion, most sludge containers or lagoons can actually maintain a nearly odorless environment. Aerobic bacteria actually convert organic material into carbon dioxide and water, while anaerobic bacteria can convert organic material into volatile fatty acids and then methane gas. In most cases, by-products of a large farm can be converted to valuable materials. For example, a fifteen thousand head piggery in Australia is saving nearly a half million dollars each year on a two million dollar investment by generating electricity from the methane, purifying water, and selling fertilizer.

Along with waste management, the environment also benefits from the added nutrients that can be returned to the soil with proper land fertilization. Large amounts of forage crops are harvested for livestock feed every year, thus depleting the soil of its needed nitrogen, potassium, and phosphorous concentrations. Therefore, the fertilizer that can be produced by large farms can be reapplied in safe amounts to the soil for conservation purposes. Also benefiting the soil and the environment is the fact that larger farms which yield larger revenues, can budget modern land management practices and research initiatives. Research, moving at today’s pace, could yield unimaginable results. For example, waste may one day be converted to an alternative fuel source, or fertilizers could be genetically manufactured to be recycled into some kind of feed. Nonetheless, the environment has much to benefit from large farms, and environmental strength can add up to other forms of gain.

Large farms also promote economic growth, competition, and efficiency. Actually, the government provides more assistance to the large, highly productive farms. These large farms can play a key role in our nation’s foreign appeal production of goods that are commonly sold overseas. Goods can also be traded overseas and used for humanitarian efforts. When large farms produce an overall increase in net product, more food is available for areas of dense poverty or crisis, which helps those in need as well as provides a competitive edge to this country. Agricultural competition around the globe requires our industry to stay on top of technological advances and progression. Farms that specialize in producing one product, whether that is meat, milk, eggs, etc…, are able to focus primarily on completing that one task to the best of their abilities. Therefore, all of their energy can be directly focused to do the best job possible. With an increase in farm size comes an increase in revenue; therefore income can be gathered from more animals. As the large farmers succeed, the nation’s economy is also able to reap their benefits.

Not only do these farms help the economy on a global and national scale, they greatly enhance the local economy as well. As small and rural communities are becoming the new homes of large farms, they too can benefit from the resources that accompany the new neighbors. First of all, the farms supply more jobs to the local sectors. Most small farms can be run by one or two full time owners that are responsible for all of the farm’s duties. However, size directly influences the number of positions required to maintain operation, and a single farm can employ experts from a wide variety of occupations from veterinarians and environmental scientists to accountants and public relations personnel. Also, certain business can only be supported by large farms, such as large animal veterinarians, processing factories, and farm implement dealers. Finally, competing farms, large and small, ultimately drive down consumer costs and drive up product quality. However, competition usually lends favor to larger farms, due to their ability to produce more of a better product, for less money.

Due to economic influence, the quality of work performed on a large farm is simply higher than that of smaller farms. The sheer size of these farms equates to a bigger net flux in capital. As previously stated, when a fixed percentage of revenue is applied to a bigger number of animals, profit increases. With an increased profit, highly educated and skilled management can be hired. Newly hired farm managers often come from one of many reputable schools offering degrees in farm science, agriculture, and business management, allowing farms to be smoothly run with current techniques. More money can further be used for product development. The goal of these large farms is to produce one thing and do it as well as possible, which is hopefully better than their competitors. For that reason alone, quality is higher. Large farms have the resources to spend a great deal of time, money, and effort to create a product the consumer wants more than any other. For example, owners pay money to have specialized veterinarians carefully monitor and care for the herd. Specially balanced protein and fat diets are also engineered to feed the animals. Even certain temperatures can be maintained year round and specific cycles of light and dark can be administered to maximize animal growth and development. Almost any means necessary with little exception can be provided at the largest of farms.

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