Factory Farm. Industrialized Farm. Corporate Farm. What do all of these repetitive, synonymous terms mean, and are they really all that bad? Where do people who use these terms draw the line? In their eyes, when does a small, family farmer become this vilified corporate monster? What is the true definition of a “factory farm?”
Having grown up on a farm, I’d never thought of our operation as a “factory farm.” The very phrase comes with such a negative connotation that most people in agriculture shy away from it. Frankly, farmers think of the term “factory farm” as incredibly offensive as it is mostly used by activists trying to paint larger farms in a negative light. But does the definition of the word “factory” line up with the connotations that now come with it?
Factory and Farm Definitions
First, let’s define the terms. Merriam Webster defines “Factory” as “a building or set of buildings with facilities for manufacturing”, or ” the seat of some kind of production.”
“Farm” is defined as “a tract of land devoted to agricultural purposes”,”a plot of land devoted to the raising of animals and especially domestic livestock” and/or “a tract of water reserved for the artificial cultivation of some aquatic life form.”
Now, if we put the two together and search the term “factory farm” we get, “a farm on which large numbers of livestock are raised indoors in conditions intended to maximize production at minimal cost” or “a large industrialized farm.”
The section that I find most intriguing is the “examples of this word in a sentence” portion of the website. For the term factory we have “the new factory will create hundreds of much-needed jobs.” The term farm had two examples, “Running a farm is hard work” and “She grew up on a dairy farm.” But, when we go to the term factory farm and look for an example sentence the first one available is, “More than 50 billion land animals suffered and died on factory farms this year” and “The overwhelming majority of animals raised for food are still raised on factory farms, where 50 billion animals lived and died this year.”
There was not a single example sentence for the term “factory farm” that discussed the hard working farmers and how 1-2% of the United States population is feeding 100% of our nation.
Why is there such a leap in meaning when we put two seemingly benign words together? First farmers are hard working people, next they’re the cause of death and suffering for their animals? If you find this as fishy as I do, keep reading.
So what is the goal of a factory?
Lets take animals out of the equation for a minute. Instead let’s discuss a factory that manufactures ball point pens. Disclaimer: I am in no way an expert on the manufacturing of ball point pens.
If I was a manager or owner of a ball point pen factory, I would want to hire good people who would work hard at their jobs, to minimize costs and maximize outputs so that the factory could be as efficient as possible, and overall make high quality writing utensils to sell in places like Staples, Target and Walmart.
While doing these things, I would have to abide by regulations so I would not cause environmental harm with my factory while still producing the product to meet the demand.
Simply put, factories aim to create high quality, consistent products in an environmentally and economically efficient way.
Now it’s time for some economics. I hear the term “corporate farm” a lot, and I want to talk about what that actually means. Just because a farm is a “corporate farm” doesn’t mean they’re not also a family farm.
As I’ve mentioned, farms are businesses. The ultimate goal is to make at least a little bit of a living doing what we love: caring for animals and providing nutritious and safe food for the rest of the population.
But, there are different ways to classify your business that determine tax and legal considerations. To put it simply, there are Sole Proprietorships, Partnerships, Corporations and Limited Liability Corporations (LLC’s).
A sole proprietor is someone who owns an unincorporated business by themselves. A partnership is exactly what it sounds like; two or more people who run a business of some sort. A corporation is slightly more complicated in that it essentially forms a separate entity to take on the liability of the business (Walmart is an example). An LLC is a combination of a corporation and a proprietorship.
Just because a business chooses to become something more than a sole proprietorship doesn’t make that business any less family run. All it does is change the way that business goes through taxes and insurance and liability.
The point is, corporate farm does not mean it cannot also be a family farm. Family farms may appear as LLCs, corporations or sole proprietorship’s.
So, now that we’ve looked at the goals of a factory and discussed the types of business classification, lets go back to discussing “factory farms.”
In my opinion, there are two ways this conversation can go: either every farm is a factory farm, or there is no such thing as a factory farm. Spoiler alert: they both end up at the same conclusion. Farmers and and ranchers are generally good men and women.
They do have similar goals to that of a factory. Farmers want to produce high quality, consistent products. They care for the land and the environment because they live there too.
On the other side, because every farm has the same goals of a factory, is there need for terminology with such a negative connotation?
97% of United States farms are family owned. That number includes farms of all sizes, practices and industries. I have traveled to some of the most agriculture-intensive states and visited farms ranging from 40,000 cows to 30 goats. I had the opportunity to speak with each owner, and I can tell you that the commitments to animal care and a safe and nutritious end product were the same.
So, the next time you hear some one criticizing “factory farms,” take a stand. Ask yourself to look at the farm from an unbiased standpoint! You could even reach out to the farmer and ask about their business structure and their commitment to animal care.