Posts tagged ‘energy’

Size Matters: From an Energy and Environmental Standpoint, the Larger the Livestock Farm the Better (part 4, conclusion)

This is a guest post from Tom Cully, a student at Indiana Wesleyan. This post is the final part of the paper that Mr. Cully wrote.

Part 1 – Introduction

Part 2 – Supporting Debate

Part 3 – Opposing Debate

Supporting Rebuttal

Those supporting large farms have spoken out against activists in both the public and the private sectors. On the issue of the environment, supporters urge opponents to understand the effort put into waste management practices. It is obvious that damage can arise from the large farm practices, but with proper management and adequate attention, the environment is in no serious danger of pollution. In fact, the environment as well as the economy can actually benefit from the size. For example, research proves that composting dead animals can actually prove to make a great fertilizer that can be sold. Farms with adequate technology are even able to convert their waste products into marketable fertilizers, gases, and freshwater.

On the issue of efficiency, large farm supporters are able to look to the USDA for proof. According to the census taken in 2002 by the USDA, larger farms generate more income per animal than do farms of smaller size for all kinds of livestock. Also verifiable by the USDA is the increased revenue generated by larger farms. Additional money can not be spent for special care on small farms, simply because there is no additional money. Money saving techniques can arise on large farms, such as bulk sales and contracted discounts. For these reasons and others large farms are more economically efficient than those of a smaller scale.

Ethically, animals on large farms receive the best care possible. Contrary to radical belief, large farm employees are actually paid to make sure the animals are healthy and cared for. Medical care from highly specialized, distinguished veterinarians is affordable when multiple appointments can be made on the same day at the same location. Controversial practices, such as beak trimming, tail docking, tooth cutting, etc…, are performed for the benefit of the animal. These procedures reduce aggression, inhibit cannibalism, and hinder self inflicted injuries. The healthier and happier the animals are, the more they will produce, which is the primary goal of large producers.

Opposing Rebuttal

Large farms undoubtedly care about the environment; however, their actions prove their priority when making money is all that matters. Though it may be possible to treat their surroundings with decency by use of modern technology and methodology, large farms all across the nation are continuing to fail at upholding the foundation of their work: the environment. Almost without exception, air and water quality, not to mention the overall quality of life, near factory farms is suffering. It is time the experts start putting their money where their mouth is and clean up their act.

Economics, another key argument for supporters, is downplayed by animal rights activists because of the unhealthy repercussions from the large farm profit. The difference in money spent between large and small farms could be used to fight poverty or provide food to homeless. Large farms also drag down the local economy by frustrating neighbors and driving out small farmers. Most small farms are unable to compete with the low prices of big farms, which forces local farmers out of business and into debt. This impact on local economy can be detrimental to a small town, and all for the greed of profit.

Perhaps even greedier is that producers are willing to sacrifice an animal’s needs for cheap feed and below standard containment. Unbelievably, some CAFOs actually provide little to no free space for animals to move and act naturally. These conditions are not only destructive to animal welfare, but they can be stressful and dangerous for the animal, limiting product quality. Alternatively, natural and organic products grown from satisfied livestock on small farms yield more nutrition and value. These circumstances can only be found on farms using natural, clean, humanely treated animals.

Conclusion

This debate is not the classic example of right and wrong. More accurately, this debate centers itself around the best decision pertaining to the conditions we are currently in and those of tomorrow. Both those supporting and opposing this issue have what seems to be relevant argumentation. However, those in support of increasing farm size to accommodate for increasing demands on agriculturalists provide a more well founded stance, though not perfect.

In other words, waste management and other environmental issues should be directly addressed by large farms. Affording sub-par practices to this issue will not suffice. The environmental ramifications of large farms should boost income, reputation, and overall success. Assertively implementing and researching modern practices to recycle, reuse, and possibly resell waste should be of equal importance as primary product sales.

Economically, large farms are a growing necessity. With demand growing, farmable land diminishing, and suburbia spreading, farms must take every initiative to compensate, even if that means giving up a small farm dominated agriculture. On the contrary, small farms are still important, because they help maintain part of American heritage and help provide a wider variety of food options. Also, another important reason to maintain some level of small farms are to provide a higher quality, more organic food that can be bought for higher prices. Agriculture on a national scale clearly benefits from the larger farms, and rural communities can too. If environmental efforts were taken more seriously, health concerns would diminish and communities would support the large farm movement, along with its benefits. As far as food quality is concerned, if the upper class does not have Grade A beef for every meal, so that peasants are able to work and feed themselves, then larger farms can further be justified.

Ethically, large farm techniques are not entirely inappropriate. Preventive surgeries such as beak trimming, tail docking, and others should be carefully considered. Although, some are necessary and most are painful, studies may suggest that not all methods prove to be beneficial.18 Not only could some time and money be saved here, but also some of the public’s concern. Confinement should be treated in the same manner. All animals have a certain inherent amount of space required for optimum growth. Simple experimentation could easily determine an approximate numerical value for this space. Operators and managers must take into consideration the relationship between animal welfare and animal production. Unfortunately, most citizens of the public sector are unfamiliar to the needs of livestock. Many concerned animal rights advocates simply become upset when they see livestock being treated differently than their own pets.

In conclusion, larger farms are crucial for the proper development of modern day agriculture. However, as with other industries, bigger is not always better. Small farms must begin to take the back seat, while continuing to fulfill an important role. Both small and large farms are obliged to maintain a dynamic relationship of accountability to keep modern agriculture on top. From here time will only tell what happens, but for now size matters, and from an energy and environmental standpoint, the larger the livestock farm the better.

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August 21, 2008 at 7:00 am

Size Matters: From an Energy and Environmental Standpoint, the Larger the Livestock Farm the Better (part 3)

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

Part 2 – Supporting Debate

Opposing Debate

Though some claim that the benefits of large farms are impressive, most argue that large farms are environmental threats, hazardous to one’s health, inefficient, and even unethically driven to produce more. The main proponents, including most of the general public, many small farmers, and several private organizations, are battling fervently to keep large farms out of the American agricultural system. Nationally appreciated groups such as the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), the Sierra Club, and the Farm Sanctuary are doing everything in their power to prevent large farm industry from spreading and potentially ruining more than just our nation’s agricultural practices. In fact, the means and methods of today’s large farms can be considered quite destructive and the reasoning is eye opening.

The environment is this world’s largest non-renewable resource that has been blessed into mankind’s possession by some supernatural or statistical force. However, as farm size increases, so does devastation to both our already struggling water and air quality. Our diminishing clean freshwater sources are taking the largest environmental hit from these farms. As the farms grow in size, so do the concentrations of animal waste and decomposing material per unit of area. Water is polluted in several ways from these “factory farms,” beginning with waste. The lagoons and holding tanks responsible for containing all of the liquid feces, antibiotics, and other natural farm wastes can leak or overflow. This causes immediate danger to surrounding freshwater supply by killing fish and harming wildlife. Farms are also using large amounts of natural freshwater for drinking, cleaning, and cooling.10 Much farm waste is ultimately disposed of as fertilizer and applied to nearby fields. After heavy rainfall, this fertilizer, which is nutrient rich with nitrogen, phosphorus and other carbonic compounds, is then leeched into even more freshwater streams, lakes, and rivers. The nutrients that collect in common waterways attract bacteria, which are also rampant among the dead carcass collections of these farms. Corpses are often times stored in large piles and left to rot through bacterial decomposition. These sources of bacteria can then deplete water of much needed oxygen. This oxygen depletion is linked to a condition known as hypoxia, a known killer of fish and plants. However, perhaps most important is the effect of high nitrogen levels that seep into local wells and reservoirs. Contamination of drinking water can cause a variety of problems. This issue can pose serious health threats and possibly jeopardize a community’s safety.

Unfortunately, issues of safety do not stop with water pollution. An area infected with large farms also experiences significant air quality concerns. Most noticeable perhaps, is the elevation in ammonia, methane, hydrogen sulfide, and other organic volatile substance levels. While ammonia, methane, and the other organic substances cause concern to only a local level of the community, hydrogen sulfide has proved to be detectable within a region-wide margin. Malodor caused by these substances is identifiable in most cases and nauseating in some. Even more important than the disgusting smells are their harmful effects on the biological body. In some cases the airborne particulate matter can be traced to cause adult and adolescent onset allergic asthma. Endotoxins, such as lipopolysaccharides (LPS), are airborne toxins secreted by bacteria that can cause mild forms of respiratory inflammation and wheezing. These pollutants can affect both employees and nearby inhabitants of these “efficient” farms, not to mention the animals themselves.

Efficiency is also a formidable oppositional strength. Large farms, though producing more quantity, lack the quality of service produced by smaller farms. First, and perhaps most unnoticed, is the lack of breed diversity. Large farms are attracted to the leading breeds of each product. Only the highest yielding breeds are being reproduced in the large farms, which will lead to livestock endangerment and possible extinction. The continual use of single breeds also sets the stage for mass genetic failure. As different breeds are prone to different diseases, viruses, and injuries, one major outbreak of any significance could irreversibly halt the production of some foods. Viruses can also be capable of spreading from animals to humans through ingestion, and cause a number of serious diseases, such as avian influenza, bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

Inefficiency also seems to manifest itself through a decrease in food quality. As farm size decreases, the operators are responsible for fewer animals and can then devote more attention to each one of them. A study shows that cattle raised on open pastures, consistently produce a higher quality beef and milk. Therefore, in regards to efficiency, when farms are so large that they produce a product that is of lower quality, harmful to the environment, and generally upsets a majority of the community, they must be inefficient.

Aside from the barrage of environmental and efficiency issues posed by the larger farms, are those of ethical concern. Perhaps the most heated debate lies in this moral category between animal rights advocates and operators. Animal rights activists are trying to expose the harmful techniques and methods used to care for farm animals. Large farms are especially prone to inhumane treatment including practices such as castrating, tail docking, confinement, tooth cutting, and beak trimming. These practices are not only cruel but painful to the animals. As the pain, discomfort, and stress of large farm livestock increases, animals become susceptible to disease and are limited in growth. Also, with restricted space and added stress, animals are not able to act naturally and often become aggressive or agitated. For these reasons, a large number of people are insistently fighting to protect the inherent rights of animals by advocating small farms. Small farms, with more limited resources, have to make each and every animal a necessity for survival. Large farms are known for treating animals with disrespect due to their high numbers. Individual animals are of no concern, because they are merely concerned with producing the highest number of units for the smallest price, despite the obliteration of an animal’s character, value, and life.

August 14, 2008 at 7:00 am 4 comments

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

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.

August 7, 2008 at 7:00 am 2 comments

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

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.

July 31, 2008 at 7:00 am 1 comment


Notice

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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