Corporate farming and its consequences in the U.S. Midwest

Factory farming--chickens
Factory farming–chickens

News: I live in Iowa, USA; I’ve lived here all my life–60 years. My parents, born in the 1920’s, both grew up on small family farms. I had relatives who farmed all their lives. Agriculture is still held up as a virtue here … even though, in 2019, fewer and fewer people in Iowa (only about 2.5% of Iowa residents) actually live and work on farms, and less and less of the crops that are grown on millions of acres are directly eaten by humans.

Farming has completely transformed from the small family farms of my parents’ days (200 acres or less, mixed grain and livestock, regular rotation of crops, animals that actually grazed in fields) extending through the 1920’s, ’30’s, and ’40’s. Today, almost no one can survive on a small farm (except a few who grow a wide range of vegetable crops and sell directly to consumers); agriculture in Iowa has become huge corporate holdings of thousands of acres worked by tenant farmers and laborers.

Most of the millions of chickens, turkeys, hogs, and–to some extent–cattle are raised in tight confinement behind locked doors in Iowa. Laws are passed to shield these operations from oversight and environmental regulation.

And, the land of Iowa itself is unrecognizable today from what it looked like in the 19th century. The land has been drained and partitioned and the rivers straightened to fit factory farming.

“The highly romanticized past has fallen apart, as it did in coal country and the Rust Belt, and anywhere else where extraction has reached its limits (industrial farming, like mining, is extraction …).”

Corporate agriculture does not help rural Iowa
Corporate agriculture does not help rural Iowa

Big Ag–notably the Iowa Farm Bureau–has an outsized influence currently on Iowa government and politics and regularly attempts to derail efforts to diversify and modernize agriculture in the state … blocking a future where a tough, honorable profession and our food supply may not be controlled by multinational corporations whose bottom line is dollars and not people.

If you live in Iowa and the U.S. Midwest, all this may be hard to read, but it is worth your time and thought. The trends are not encouraging; is real change possible? Can we work together?

Learn more: Iowa crops look like food–but no one’s eating (Mark Bittman, Heated, 11 July 2019).


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