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Ikerd speaks on corporate farming

By Staff | May 20, 2016

John Ikerd, a noted agricultural economist, made a stop in Rugby this week to discuss corporate farming and the future of American food production. The stop was part of a four city tour sponsored by the Dakota Resource Council to raise awareness as ND prepares to vote on a corporate farming law in the June primary. Ikerd gave a presentation and answered audience questions about how corporate farming effects rural areas and food production.

Ikerd spent many of his early years in academia and extension services touting the benefits of industrial agriculture and hoped that this new specialized and systematized type of agriculture would provide cheap, good food to everyone. He cited years of studies that show it hasn’t worked and that the US actually has more people who live with food insecurity than it did before the rise of industrial ag in the 1960s. His experience in the late 80’s farm crisis deeply affected his ideas on family farmers vs. corporate farms.

He pointed out that large corporate farms, those that are publicly traded or owned by mega corporations, not family farm corporations, only have an interest in providing an economic benefit to its shareholders. Shareholders spread out across the county, linked only by their ownership stake in the company. The board of directors has an obligation to increase efficiency and profits for their shareholders, are often subject to contracted standards and quotas, and often do not take into account the local community where the farm is located.

On the other hand, a family corporation or a traditional family farm often have a wider latitude to make decisions, without shareholders, boards, and contracted standards. These family farmers also see the land as their own to pass on to the next generation and are part of their local community, they buy locally and invest locally. They see the community, farm, and family’s well-being as tied to one another.

Some of the audience questions focused on animal treatment and public health concerns. Ikerd noted that the odor and air quality from large animal confinement feedlots has been shown to be different because waste is disposed of in sluice pits subject to anaerobic processes. Others noted that animals in confined environments are subject to tail and beak cutting and exhibit stressed behavior like bar chewing, & significantly shortened lives. Ikerd also touched on “ag gag” laws that prohibit people from speaking out about these types of practices on corporate farms.

Ikerd said he remained hopeful that a new food system is already growing in the US. Businesses that deliver fresh, locally sourced food from farmers to your doorstep are already well established and serving millions. Numerous local coops and community garden sharing groups are popping up around the country, allowing people to gain access to fresh food easily. The ‘Amazon’ idea of ordering what you need, when you need it can revolutionize access to fresh food in the near future.

*Updated Monday, 12:49 p.m.

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