Corporate farming reached new levels in the last half of the 20th century and doesn’t appear to be slowing down. While family-owned farms are still in existence scattered across the country, their presence is threatened by powerful corporations that have the funds and employee numbers to quickly override them.
According to Farm Aid, just four companies control a staggering amount of the country’s food resources. These four companies control a majority percentage of several food crops, tipping the scales in their favor, toward what economists regard as a problematic amount of power. For example, between those few companies, they together share 84% of the nation’s beef production. Additionally, they control 80% of the country’s corn and 70% of its soybean production.
This imbalance of power can have devastating affects on family-owned farms and consumers alike, as economy studies suggest that competition is limited which can results in abuses of power.
Corporate Farms Can Wreak Havoc on the Environment
While smaller farms have a limited impact on the environment, unchecked corporate farming can have devastating consequences for nature. 260 million acres of United States land has been deforested in order to grow food for corporate livestock. When such large amounts of trees are removed, carbon escapes into the atmosphere and drives global warming.
This situation has already occurred in Brazil, where 100 million hectares were cleared in the Amazon rainforest for soybean production. The resulting carbon outputs singlehandedly increased the rate of global warming by 50%.
Corporate farming can also cause damage in small communities. When corporations buy small farms, they can pay them smaller amounts. To make their necessary income, farmers are driven to expand their fields and overproduce crops, infringing on environmentally-threatened areas and having long-lasting affects on the environment due to this overproduction.
Corporations Have Bigger Budgets
It goes without saying that corporations have deeper pockets than most family-owned farms. Corporations can buy up farmland at higher costs than family farmers can. As typical family farm budgets cannot compete with the higher spending limits of corporations, farmers virtually have no other option except to ultimately farm for the corporation.
According to the National Farmers Union, statistics show that farmers and ranchers receive a significantly low portion of income from consumer purchases. In fact, that portion amounts to an average of 14.6 cents for every dollar that consumers spend on farmed products. The remaining portion of the consumer dollar goes towards a variety of “off-farm” costs, such as marketing and distribution costs.
A real-life example of this discrepancy is demonstrated through the average retail cost of a five-pound bag of Russet potatoes. While the consumer pays, on average, $2.99 for this product, the farmer who grew the potatoes typically receives only 75 cents of that purchase.
Family-Owned Farm Rates are Declining
The number of family-owned farms are declining rapidly. In Iowa, for instance, almost an entire third of its farms have disappeared between the 1970s and now, in the span of 50 years. The once diverse farmlands of rural American have begun to transform into farms growing just one or two crops due to corporate pressure.
Policies protecting small farm owners have dissolved over time, and caps on overproduction have disappeared in the process. This absence of protective measures for farmers means that prices for crops have declined drastically, and farmers are being pushed to overproduce just to make decent wages.
With stronger support for family-owned farms, our food system could improve in the next few decades. For such a change to occur, it will take a strong emphasis on paying fair prices for food produced by smaller farms and an appreciation for healthier crops and environment-friendly farming practices.