What is a corporate farm? A couple weeks ago I wrote a post about “The Family Farm” (http://bashawben.wordpress.com/2009/09/04/the-family-farm/) and it ended up leading to some fantastic discussion. (Thanks everyone for contributing your comments.) There are many reasons why most of us are pretty confused about what defines a family farm and what defines a corporate farm. For one thing, as I said in my earlier post, the “corporate farm” is often largely invisible and food corporations, much like corporations of any other sector, often own other companies and operate under several different names. Also, many farms that are owned by families are heavily influenced by corporations if that is where the family buys their seed, fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides and other inputs. In some cases like the example of the chicken farmers in the film “Fresh” the corporation also buys back the end product, leaving the farmers with very little choice of how to run their own farm. Doesn’t seem fair does it? In my opinion, it’s not.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, in 2004 families owned 98% of all the farms in the US. WOW! So what’s the big deal about corporate farms using unsustainable and environmentally harmful practices if only 2% of farms in the US are considered corporate? Well, before you breathe a big sigh of relief, compare this to the following statistic. The World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University conducted a study showing that in the year 2000 the wealthiest 1% of the world’s population owned 40% of the world’s total net worth! Sourse: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/12/06/business/worldbusiness/06wealth.html So whether it’s control over farmland or control over money in general, there’s a definite theme here. The inequality of wealth in our world is growing larger and larger and larger.
The largest 10 percent of U.S farms hold 75 percent of the value of production of all US farmland! Source: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/EIB24/ So does this mean corporate farms and large scale family farms are more productive and more efficient? I doubt it. I wasn’t able to find very good data on the average sizes of family farms vs non-family farms, but clearly corporate run farms are typically a LOT larger.
The conclusion: Even though corporate farms may only account for 2% of the NUMBER of farms in the US, they are farming a much, much larger percentage of the total acres of farmland. They have an enormous level of influence in the agricultural industry and on the economy and environment due to their shear size and it would be foolish to ignore these facts simply because not many people are talking about it. Agriculture’s share of total US employment has plummeted from over 30% in 1910 to less than 2% in 2005. Bottom line: we need more farmers!
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