One of the best things about weekends is (perhaps) more time to read op-ed pieces. Two of the weekend’s best discuss the consolidation of small family farms into large-scale agribusinesses. From China to North Dakota, changes are afoot.
A piece by Michael Meyer (appearing in the Los Angeles Times) describes the farm shift in China, as Bejing seeks to consolidate small family plots into large-scale production efforts. The second piece, by Clay Jenkinson, appears in the Bismarck Tribune (North Dakota). As that state’s hog and dairy production opens up to large-scale production interests, the author writes about what is being lost as a result. (Interestingly, both pieces mention 4-H, the national youth organization that was founded to promote agricultural education, among other things. China doesn’t have an equivalent of 4-H; North Dakota does, and it feeds into the state’s agricultural ethos).
China faces some serious challenges, and the government’s efforts are focused on increased productivity by consolidating family-farmed plots into “managed” enterprises. The effort is drawing resistance. And while most of China’s agribusinesses are locally owned, foreign investment is pushing in (including food giants like Cargill). As Meyer writes:
“One-fifth of the world’s population feeds off one-twelfth of the plant’s arable land. And that acreage is shrinking: In the last 30 years, an area the size of New York state has been over as China urbanized. An addition 8 million acres became so polluted that the government announced in late 2013 that they shouldn’t be used for agriculture.”
The scale of agriculture in North Dakota is not the same as in China, but the changes that are occurring spurred Jenkinson to write this:
“I know such “food factories” are now the “standard of the business,” but that does not make them right. Personally, I would rather not have the milk I drink extracted on such a scale with such industrial efficiency, not to mention the hormones that force today’s cows to live in perpetual discomfort. I’d rather not eat pork that found its way to my table by way of a massive confinement warehouse, a byword for unhealthy hyper-claustrophobia, employing what can only be called inhumane fattening techniques.
I’m certain that compelling reasons can be put forth to support the corporatization of hog and dairy operations in North Dakota, but once you crack that door open, the rest will surely follow. It truly is a slippery slope. It is the end of the greatest phase of North Dakota history. In some sense, it is the end of North Dakota as we have known it.”