Get Bigger or Get Out?

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue’s remark at a town hall meeting at the recent World Dairy Expo in Madison, WI. did not go over well with the farming community and for good reason given the ongoing decline in family farms and especially dairy farms.  He said, "In America, the big get bigger and the small go out.”

 I believe he is correct in his assessment of the history nd current status of agriculture in our country today. but that does not mean it is acceptable in this time of environmental pollution and climate concerns. 

Secretary Purdue is obviously ignoring the fact that getting bigger in the livestock industry is always associated with greater environmental damage.  It’s one thing to build a bigger factory, or a bigger grocery store, but quite another to assemble thousands of cow into one small areae.    If you want to see what can happen when 13000 cows are assembled in one place, check out — http://www.dochollidaysblog.com/docs-blog/an-environmental-disaster.html     

Back in the day,  a family scale dairy farm —40 to 50 cows — was a financially viable, self-sustaining unit with very little impact on the environment. Beef, swine, and poultry raising operation were similarly small scale with minimal impact on nature.

The end of WWII brought many changes.   “Economy of scale”” was the byword of the times and the hue and cry from   bankers and university  economists was  to “get bigger or get out.”.   Several interlocking trends began to take place;

  • Wartime production of munitions changed to production of agriculture fertilizers and toxic herbicides and insecticides.  Instead of tanks, airplanes, and jeeps, tractors and farm machinery could now be buitl paving the way for larger and larger farming operations.  
  • Intensive farming resulted in soil depletion with a concurrent decline in the nutritional value of crops and ultimately in diminished animal health. 
  • The stress associated with confined animal feeding operations —CAFO’s — also had negative effects on animal health and productivity.
  • Feeding continuous antibiotic attenuated some of the disease problems in CAFO’s but resulted in the rise of  antibiotic resistant bacteria deadly to humans.   

These trends are still operational today and, unless dealt with, will continue to control how our food is grown and what we will have to eat. 

Consider this; small family farms have relatively little effects on the environment. Conversely large mega-dairies  and CAFO’s produce a tremendous amount of environtal pollution — but they do not have to pay for it.  There would be no profit in mega livestock operations if the owners had to pay the bill for environmental damage.

 Our environment and our small family farms would be better served if Sec. Purdue would enforce the Organic Standards Law and also take steps to limit the monstrous size of CAFO’s and mega-dairies. 

I don’t look for anything like that to happen until the politicians take their hands out of the pockets of the Ag-Industry.  Don’t hold your breath!

rjhdvm@gmail.com