Big Agriculture

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This is a pejorative term used to imply that large agricultural corporations have more power than is fair or safe. The contrasting image is of the small family farmer, crushed under the huge buying power and political influence of the mega-corporation. Some fear that large agricultural corporations are insufficiently protective of public health, safety, and the environment. From this perspective, it is also alarming to some that a small number of giant corporations grow nearly all of the food consumed by U.S. citizens. 

On the other hand, proponents of large-scale agriculture (their preferred term) point to trends in population growth and claim that only large corporations can raise the food needed to feed ten billion people. They point out the narrow and sometimes naive views of people who complain about “big agriculture” while simultaneously expecting fresh, healthy, and inexpensive food to appear year-round in their supermarkets. The only realistic solution to food security, say these proponents, is to support and respect those who are struggling heroically to find ever better solutions to feed a growing human population. In this view, the “big” aspect of large-scale agriculture is a solution, not a problem.

Still other people believe that the large/small agriculture debate is a distraction, and that a combination of large-scale, industrial agriculture and small-scale, local farming is the best solution. In this view, we should be looking at ways to help large and small scale agriculture work togetherto provide the complex solutions we need.

Seeing big agriculture per se as a problem is most prominent among liberals, who are in favor of greater regulation and oversight over the growth of crops. Those on the right are generally more willing to believe that robust market forces will “weed out” agricultural corporations that fail to meet public needs, and that government oversight is likely to make the problem worse instead of better.  That said, there is substantial concern on the right regarding agricultural subsidies, which overwhelmingly favor big agriculture.  For instance, 75% of agricultural subsidies go to the 10 biggest corporate agricultural producers.  In essence, through ag. subsidies ordinary taxpayers are forced to pay multimillionaires to produce corn, soy, and other cash crops. 

QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:

  • If there was no such thing as large-scale agriculture, how would you get your food? What would be better? What would be worse? Conversely, if all farming was done by giant conglomerates, how would your life be different?
  • If you could go back in time to 200 years ago, when 80% of people were farmers, what would you tell people about farming today? What do you think their reaction would be?
  • Starting tomorrow, imagine you became CEO of every major company in the Big Agriculture constellation. With all power at your fingertips, what would YOU do differently (or similarly) moving forward?    
Conversation Catalysts: 
Contributors: 

Cynthia Kurtz

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