Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Bud Williams on Grass Farming/Industrial Farming

**We are a little late because of the lack of power this morning...**

After the video I posted on Monday, my thoughts I posted yesterday, and the comments in both of the posts this article from the May, 2008 issue of "The Stockman Grassfarmer" comes at a great time. The article by Bud Williams (he has a recently new column in the publication) is titled, "Grass Farming Must Grow By Giving People What They Want". Mr. Williams' basic premise is spelled out plainly in the title, but he also concludes that there will always be a need/desire for the factory farms because that is what the people want.

In the article Mr. Williams asks,
"As a nation, we went from small farm to family farm to factory farm. How did this happen? Was it because of... Evil corporations taking advantage of us? A government conspiracy to keep food prices low? Cheap oil or any of the other things blamed? No, it was none of these things. It was caused by more people and people wanting more."
I like the path that Mr. Williams is going down. I'm not much of a conspiracy theorist or glass half empty kind of guy and I do agree to a point that if people want to do factory farming because that is what they want to do it is okay. And I do agree that growth in the grass farming world needs to come from public demand for grassfed beef. People need to want it because of the taste, because of the environmental concerns, and because it is just natural.

But, with that being said I don't think the answer is that simple. Evil corporations taking advantage of us … well, I might not go that far, but it is evident that big ag companies do work with the Universities to make sure their products get used. A government conspiracy to keep food prices low … not really a conspiracy, because it was totally out in the open, but keeping food prices low was the main thrust of what Earl Butts did. Cheap oil or any of the other things that are blamed … I'm all for cheap oil, bring it on! No really, sure that contributed to the industrialization of agriculture because now that oil is high we see things changing towards energy conservation.

One more thing, I don't think we went from small farm to family farm to factory farm. Because the small farms were family farms. I think we went from subsistence only family farms to family farms that because of advancements could sell the extras and then to factory farms. The factory farms came at a time when a lot of America's business was being ramped up so it isn't like they became factory farms on their own.

The article continues with more good information and thoughts from Mr. Williams, but ends with the thing that I probably agree with the most,
"If we can't change the factory farms at least we can supple the people who want grass-based products. Make a profit and enjoy what you do, then you can Smile and Mean it!"

1 comment:

Yeoman said...

I think perhaps William's analysis is weaker than that, although I'd certainly agree there's no conspiracy in the works.

In part, I think what tends to have occurred reflects a lack of thought, as much as anything. People do not so much "want" something to occur, as flow along and allow it to occur. Even at that, they often regret it occurring, even while it is occurring, and even if they participate in it.

There is, however, some truth in what he says. The nation didn't really start off with small farms that evolved into family farms. At first, the overwhelming majority of farms were family farms. In the American north, they were small production farms and yeoman farms. In the South, they were largely yeoman farms. The difference is that yeoman farms were more agrarian in nature, and consumed much more of what they produced. Yet even then, there were big market "plantation" farms, albeit mostly in the South.

This pattern, with some change, actually predominated in American farming well into the post World War Two era. The exceptions were that cattle ranching in the West was not agrarian, but production for the most part. And grain farming was largely production by the late 19th Century. Even so, agrarian elements remained in both industries.

"Factory" farming really didn't come in until the 1930s and get big until the 1960s and 1970s. The driving force of it was in part the government, which starting in the 1930s actively tried to boost the "rural standard of living". The FDR administration, and those that followed, emphasized production and discouraged diversity on the basis that production generated a higher income. They thought they were doing family farms a favor, even though they were actually hurting them. This gave a boost to single crop production, which came at the same time that agricultural machinery became more expensive, but more efficient.

That started the driving forces we see today. The emphasis on money was heightened, which emphasized bigness.

To add to it, especially since the 1950s, and even more since the 1980s, American culture has been obsessed with money in ways it was not previously. This is hard for us to appreciate, as we all live in this culture. But if we take a look back at middle class families of the 40s, 50s and 60s, we can see that their concept of adequate material items was much, much, less dominated by the acquisition of things than ours is now. The ultimate irony of the Baby Boom Generations actions may be that, after defining themselves with films like "The Graduate", they went on to adopt the thing they claimed to be rebelling against in spades.

Having said that, there was a strong desire on the part of many people in the 20s through 50s to get off the farm. This also coincided with the governments emphasis on the material life. Farm work was considered hard, urban life easy. It isn't, but that is what was presumed. In many rural areas today those presumptions still exist, fueled by a televised view of what urban life is supposed to be like.

What I think all of this suggests is that people do not so much want what we now have, in terms of an agricultural system, or even in terms of modern life. Rather, we get what market forces give us. People who believe very strongly in the market system believe we get what we want, because the market is an indicator of that. And it is in part. But it's also an indicator of market forces that most of us have little control over. When those forces become too great, or when those who have the advantage in them become too powerful, we definitely do not get what we want, which we have known for a very long time. That's why we have regulation. Too much regulation is bad, but too little isn't good either.

What I'd suggest is that the best economic, and agricultural system would be that which we consciously decide serves us. What do we want? Are we mere cattle to be fed? Or do we want individuals to have decent lives. If so, the more individual economic units of any kind that are in individual or family hands the better. I'd submit that all economic things exists to serve living. When they're reduced to merely being efficient, we're not thinking very much.

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