Factory Farm. Big Ag. Corporate Agriculture. CAFO. These are just a few of the terms used by those who oppose large business agriculture in today’s food production. Let’s face it, agriculture is made of many different farms, ranches, and operations, none of which are exactly the same. Some may be owned by families, others by a business entity. Some of these operations produce small quantities of food, while others consist of multiple locations with large outputs. But there is a common goal among them all, to produce food to feed the world.
Small Family Farms and ranches make up the backbone of American Agriculture. These producers may sell products at local farmer’s markets or to local vendors. These operations have less inputs and lower production, and are often a secondary source of income. Labor for the small family farm can be made entirely of immediate family members or may include a few hired hands from the surrounding communities. These producers have found their niche in the local markets and take pride in their operation.
Larger farms and ranches are made of many employees, require more inputs, and have a larger production scale. These operations may be family owned and operated, a cooperative effort between farmers or ranchers, or may be owned by a multitude of people. The operation may consist of many locations, each specializing in a specific product. These operations produce on a larger scale, have found their niche in local, regional, national, and possibly international markets, and take great pride in contributing to the community and take great pride in their efforts.
Both types of operations have something even stronger in common. There is a face behind the food produced. Take myself for example. I work in a large cattle feedyard operation with a one-time capacity of 67,000 head. Some call a feedyard a “factory farm”, a CAFO (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operation), or a multitude of other terms showing dislike for the method of operation. We have much larger inputs than a small cattle operation, but have much larger outputs on a very efficient scale. My feedyard has many employees and numerous sister-yards within the same company spread throughout several states. Our company is owned by one family, in effect, it is a family operation. (And yes I can already hear many people scoffing at that statement in disagreement.)
I was raised on a family cattle ranch, had an hour and a half bus ride to school, raised 4-H project chickens, and showed steers from our pasture at the county fairs. My father runs our own auction barn, attends the local cattleman’s meetings, and sips coffee with the locals at the cafe. My brother judged livestock in FFA and my sisters are members of the high school marching band. My step-mother works at the hometown bank, and we are all members of the local church.
I work in a cattle feedyard and care for thousands of cattle on a daily basis. The feed mill batches 2 Million pounds of feed daily, and there are days where I receive 23 loads of new feeder cattle. I spend my days processing new arrivals and putting together pens of more than 200 cattle. We get up early in the morning and ship fat cattle to the beef plant that is 20 miles down the road. I work day in and out and get a pay check every two weeks.
Do you have a problem believing that these two stories can be from one and the same person? You see, there is a face behind the food on the grocery store shelf. A farmer or a rancher worked hard to produce that food. It does not matter if the name on the package is from a large or small operation, there are individuals who worked hard to produce that food. We each have a story, and we each take the responsibility of feeding the world seriously. Just because I work for a large cattle feedyard, does not mean I left my morals, goals, ethics, integrity, or passion for raising cattle at my family’s ranch. I am one and the same whether at the feedyard in Texas or the ranch in Arkansas.
Next time you label a food producer as “Factory Farming” or “Big Ag”, remember there is a face and a story behind the packaging. I am a REAL cattleman. I produce REAL food. And I really do care about the cattle I raise, whether it be on the ranch or in the feedyard, because I help to provide the beef on plates around the world.
Are you part of large agriculture production or a small local operation? Send me your story and thoughts on this topic so I can share this with others. (firstname.lastname@example.org) or look up the I am Agriculture Proud group on Facebook to connect with farmers and ranchers from all parts of Agriculture.