Over the summer, National Public Radio (NPR), reported on this subject in a piece called “In the Making of Megafarms, A Mixture of Pride and Pain,” by Dan Charles. For me,The most surprising portion of the show was the statistic that: “According to the latest census of American agriculture, there are two million farms in America. But just four percent of those farms account for two-thirds of all agricultural production.” This shift is viewed with mixed feelings. There are both benefits and drawbacks to this form of production.
The benefits of large-scale farming are production efficiency, arguably food-safety, profitability, and lower costs to the consumer. For every proponent of large-scale farming, there an equal number of opponents. John Ikerd falls into the latter category. In his paper, Reclaiming Rural America from Corporate Agriculture, Prof. Ikerd writes:
Rural communities are being systematically polluted and plundered by an industrial agriculture that is increasingly under the control of large agribusiness corporations. . . . Many rural communities, desperate for jobs, are encouraged to compete for new prisons. If they can’t get a prison, they may be encouraged to settle for a landfill. . . . If they can’t get a landfill, they can probably get a toxic waste incinerator or a nuclear waste site . . . . [or] large-scale confinement animal feeding operations. The corporate world sees rural areas as empty spaces occupied by desperate people . . . . The profits go to wealthy corporate investors, while rural people are paid but a few dollars . . . .Prof. Ikerd’s position is not atypical. Other rationales some rural residents give for being opposed to “mega farming” include foul smelling odors and other negative secondary environmental effects. The unemployment that Prof. Ikerd’s paper mentions is one of the largest concerns. In 2001, a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report found that declines in farming and opposition to industrializing trends in agriculture are compelling rural areas to seek new job sources, abandoning farming, and sometimes leaving their hometown, altogether. Rural farmers, like Donn Teske, have observed a type of rural-flight: "there's nothing left but huge modern farms and boarded-up main streets of county seats. And that's really sad to see."
“Mega farming” may be necessary to facilitate a relatively cheap and plentiful source of food for America. However, this form of farming comes at a cost to the farmers and their rural way of life. Donn Teske’s home county of Jewell, has fallen victim to a large, 25 square mile farm. Since the “mega farm” took root in the 1980s, the population of Jewell County has fallen by nearly half. Daily accommodations and necessities have given way. The town of Jewell no longer has its own schools, nor are there shops where one could by a suit and shoes. This lack cannot help but impact the local rural community.
As the negative consequences of larger farms on rural livelihood continues to accumulate, one cannot help but to reflect on this trend historically. The move from rural farms to “mega farms” can be said to be somewhat analogous to Rockefeller and the oil industry: although the production is arguably more efficient and the product itself is more consistent and arguably safer, many families livelihoods are compromised in the process.