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Pro-Industrial-Farm Gagvocacy Pretends to Feed Families with Less Enviromental Impact

The barf-word of the week is agvocacy, the new term being foisted on us by the “share our story” marketing machine of industrial agriculture.

"Agvocacy" on the small screen: screen cap from AgWeek TV, YouTube, posted 2019.04.27.
“Agvocacy” on the small screen: screen cap from AgWeek TV, YouTube, posted 2019.04.27.

The term pops into my attention in a pro-corporate puff piece written by farm propagandist Michelle Rook promoting hog CAFOs—oh, sorry, Rook says I should use the term swine nursery:

Josh and Deanna Johnson completed a 2,400-head swine nursery near Volin last summer, but not without pushback from the Yankton County Planning and Zoning Commission and county residents.

Deanna Johnson said that is why it is imperative they share their story. The Johnsons, along with several other Yankton County farmers, helped form Families Feeding Families to bring awareness about the impact family farms have on the region. It also is a response to the opposition over several proposed swine operations in Yankton County.

“I don’t think people realize that agriculture or family farms is a small business and they don’t give them the permission or allow them to grow,” Deanna Johnson said.

Families Feeding Families shared the story of the importance of livestock production at a recent agvocacy event in Yankton. The event included a free evening meal, speaker, auction and dance.

Money raised will be used to sponsor community and school educational events to raise awareness of modern, best practices used by family farms to protect the environment and produce more with a smaller carbon footprint [non-journalistic pro-corporate propaganda lines bolded by CAH; Michelle Rook, “Families Feeding Families Promotes Livestock Production in SD,” Pierre Capital Journal, 2019.04.29].

The propaganda hear toots about feeding families and reducing carbon footprint, but the hog CAFO business model takes lower-carbon-impact grain out of the mouths of humans and feeds it to higher-carbon-impact hogs. That’s like saying I want to go somewhere in my Beetle, so I’m going to buy some gasoline, fill up the tank of a Chevy truck, and have my brother tow me in my Beetle to Sioux Falls.

The Yankton event was filled with hogwash from Trent Loos, who knows a thing or two about cattle and deceit and who pretends that opposition to CAFOs is based on liberal activist lies:

Speaker Trent Loos has been advocating for agriculture for over 20 years through speaking events and his radio program. He said the early attacks on animal agriculture came from activists that claimed meat, milk and eggs were nutritionally bad for consumers. However, he said those myths were shattered through sound research. Now, most of the attacks on livestock have shifted to environmental concerns. He said those claims are false.

“We would not have a healthy environment without animal agriculture,” Loos said. “When we confine animals, we have the opportunity to manage the manure, which is not a waste” [Rook, 2019.04.29].

Hog poop isn’t waste—now that’s marketing-speak redefinition par excellence. Next Loos will tell us his poop doesn’t stink, either.

The simple fact is that there are a lot better ways to grow food that don’t produce as much waste and don’t stink up the neighborhood. CAFO owners can agvocate all they want for permission to grow, but they ignore the externalities of their large-scale crap production that prevent communities from growing by driving smaller ag producers out of business and driving neighbors to live elsewhere.


  1. Darin Larson 2019-04-30 10:16

    Cory, your unsupported statement that state of the art animal production facilities “prevent communities from growing by driving smaller ag producers out of business and driving neighbors to live elsewhere” does not reflect your typical level of intellectual scrutiny and reliance on facts over siren songs of emotion.

    Much like most industries these days, American agriculture produces products for a world market and competes against farmers from around the world. Preventing the building of a CAFO down the road generally has as much effect on a neighboring small farm as preventing the building of a computer factory in North Sioux City would have had on “mom and pop” computer stores in Elk Point in the early 1990’s. It was not the proximity of the Gateway 2000 factory that prevented a local computer producer from making a living in Elk Point. It was the laws of economics that prevented a small computer producer from thriving or even existing in Elk Point. When Gateway left North Sioux City, there was no sudden resurgence in small computer manufacturers in the area. The reason was and is simple: computer manufacturers compete in a world market and compete against low cost producers the world over, not just the nearest competitor. Eliminating Gateway from our backyard did not eliminate the competition in the global computer market.

    Likewise, American farmers compete against producers the world over. If we could magically ban all CAFO’s in America tomorrow, that wouldn’t bring back the days of Old McDonald’s farm with a few dozen laying hens, 5 hogs, 2 milk cows, a dozen sheep, and a few beef cattle. Instead, our food would be produced primarily by other countries that use economies of scale and modern production methods to be the low cost producer.

    To be sure, there is room for niche producers in agriculture, just like there are niche services and producers in the computer industry. There are opportunities for local service providers and niche fillers like Mac Doctors or Stensland Family Farms for example. But the small niche producers are never going to fill the production requirements of the commodity markets. That’s why these products are referred to as commodities. Stensland Family Farms does not sell commodities–they sell value added products in a certain limited market.

    In sum, the contention that local CAFO’s are driving local small farmers out of business is incomplete. The statement is only true to the extent that the world’s CAFO’s are driving local small farmers out of business, just as farms have been getting bigger for economic reasons since virtually the beginning of time. Eliminating local CAFO’s does not bring back local small farmers–it only transfers that production to other countries. We didn’t outlaw Walmart because it was putting mom and pop stores out of business. Heck, we didn’t outlaw department stores like Woolworths because they put the local general store out of business. Every industry strives for efficiency and low cost production in the long run. Agriculture is no different.

    The “externalities” (to use Cory’s word) of modern large-scale agriculture must be managed to be sure. That is why there must be proper zoning and use of technology to minimize potential untoward effects. Back to the retailing example: We don’t outlaw Walmart. We regulate it with labor laws, minimum wage laws, zoning laws, licensing requirements and even anti-trust if it becomes necessary. Agriculture is no different even though family farms are more like mom and pop stores than Walmart.

    Instead of emotional and knee-jerk responses and a longing for the imagined idyllic days of yester-year, regulation should be based upon science and research and data. Isn’t that the standard we should live by?

  2. Porter Lansing 2019-04-30 10:48

    Blah Blah Blah – -Meat, milk and eggs in excess ARE nutritionally bad for consumers, Mr. Loos Lucy.
    -Technically, we WOULD have a more healthy environment without animal agriculture. We wouldn’t be nearly as culinarily satisfied, though.
    -Across the street from my urban photo studio is LaVaca Cattle Co. It’s six ranchers in NE and CO who combine for sales. They’ve built a “boutique” feedlot that eliminates almost all of the bad parts of CAFO and produces some mighty tasty steaks and burger, more humanely. They trade in futures and sell retail, dry aged, flash frozen from big freezers in the storefront.
    -The SoDak CAFO model is just greed on the cloven hoof. It could be better, make as much profit … and stink a whole lot less.

  3. Rebecca 2019-04-30 12:58

    I always have to chuckle when self-proclaimed “agvocates” call CAFOs “state of the art.”
    What exactly is state of the art about a pit full of sh*t?

    I guess if I had enough checkoff dollars at my disposal, I could run a slick marketing campaign to convince folks my outhouse was the latest in modern technology.

    The folks who make money off these things are the consultants, investors, engineers, and builders. Oh, and lawyers, too. Farmers are along for the ride with contracts that always have an escape hatch–but not for them.

    There’s no radical, Luddite, or eco-terrorist conspiracy here. The truth is that rural people don’t like factory farms, and that includes actual farmers.

  4. jerry 2019-04-30 14:52

    Thankfully, we have mental health in the Farm Bill…oops, fake news, turns out that hasn’t been turned on yet so farmers have to make with donations for their treatments.

    “The recent, devastating floods increased concerns about the mental health and well-being of farmers who already were struggling with yearslong economic uncertainty. Groups in flood-affected states such as Nebraska say they are preparing to provide mental and emotional support to devastated farmers. Meanwhile, the federal government has yet to begin implementing a Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network that was revived in the 2018 farm bill.”

    So even with all the grifting, nothing happens. Kind of like the 2 trillion dollar infrastructure gimmick agreed upon today…should work…if only there was a way to get the money. Hey, we could declare a national emergency…naw, old news.

  5. Donald Pay 2019-04-30 16:15

    I find this kind of funny in that it seems Rook lacks a basic understanding of the history of this issue. Rooks’ piece appeared in the Pierre Capital Journal, which covered the first fight over large-scale CAFOs in South Dakota. She should have done a little fact-checking in the archives of that paper.

    When we were taking on the proposed National Farms hog operation in Hughes County in the mid-1980s our principal supporters outside Hughes County were hog producers in the eastern part of the state, not animal rights activists. Yes, they would become involved in another hog farm fight later, but they were allied with small hog producers. In fact, the South Dakota Pork Producers, know for their agvocacy of the hog industry, intervened against National Farms, and I had the pleasure of being on the same side as Jerry Lammers, their attorney and spokesman, one of the few times that ever happened. I do believe this issue was one that propelled Frank Kloucek, a hog producer and opponent of the corporate CAFO model into the Legislature. I know that opposition to this CAFO extended into the Mickelson Administration, because one of his cabinet members told me, as we pushed our young children on swings in one of Pierre’s parks, that I should “keep fighting the hog farm. You have more support than you realize.”

    Well, after helping start a local organization made up of many local ag producers, I encouraged them to take over the fight, and they did. I got to back away a bit, though I still helped with an initiative and on state water hearings.

    My point is that farmers aren’t always agvocating for the same things. Some believe in local control, independent producers and fair markets. Others believe in corporate control, captive producers and corrupted markets.

  6. Donald Pay 2019-04-30 21:39

    Darin Larson,

    I think you are quite behind the times. Maybe the manufacturing of meat in CAFO factories was all the rage in the 1980s and 1990s, but that time has passed. The market is putting a premium on non-CAFO produced products and the more local and organic, the better. The best restaurants and even the mid-level establishments are switching over to what you call “niche” producers, at least in Madison, WI. Today’s “niche” market is rapidly expanding. The grocery across the street specializes in local “niche” products, including meat. People who can afford it have switched over. I buy about half of the meat I get from what you call “niche” producers. Niche today is where CAFOs were in the mid-1980s, but they will dominate the market in 10 years, and CAFOs will be going under.

    I think dairy producers, which has been hit hard recently, may recover with more niche thinking, combined with CBD oil and hemp. They’ve been trying for several years to change over, but many small guys are getting out because they are aging out and don’t want to try new ways.

  7. Debbo 2019-04-30 22:32

    Donald is right about the preference for “niche” meat. In Minnesota and especially Minneapolis, St. Paul, the suburbs, Rochester and Duluth, grocery stores are struggling to get as much nonCAFO meat as their customers want. Most restaurants, except fast food and diners, make it known that the meat they serve is local and organic– nonCAFO.

    That’s about 4 million customers, just in Minnesota. CAFOs will run out of market in the US and have to sell in Asian, African and South and Central American markets. I think Brazil and Argentina might have a stranglehold on the latter two.

  8. Darin Larson 2019-04-30 22:39

    Donald Pay,

    I don’t know what times you live in, but CAFO’s are still the dominant form of animal production in the US and their numbers are rising:

    I think it is true that both large producers and niche producers are on the rise. You mention “people who can afford it have switched over [to the niche marketers.]” But there’s the rub, isn’t it? Many people cannot afford to pay premium prices demanded by organic producers and the like.

    In 1900, 40% of the US population lived on a farm. Today that number is approximately 1%. In 1948, we used 4 times the labor in agricultural production in the U.S. that we do today and we produced less food back then as well. The times are a changing in agriculture just like every other industry or area of society.

    We are not returning to an agrarian society where half the population has to devote their working lives to food production.

  9. Adam 2019-04-30 22:40

    You can accomplish ANYTHING in South Dakota – IF you can make it look like ‘liberals’ are your only opposition…

    …because even our ‘cities’ are governed by rural culture.

  10. Debbo 2019-04-30 23:08

    Darin said, “Many people cannot afford to pay premium prices demanded by organic producers and the like.”

    “Many people” cannot afford groceries at all. That’s why the demand on food shelves continues to increase. GOP policies will soon cause more and more people to become unwilling vegetarians because pinto beans are what they can afford.

    In the developing countries they only eat meat when they manage to rustle up something locally. Meals were similar in the USA during the Great Depression. Lots of beans.

  11. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-04-30 23:49

    Darin, true, I don’t cite nearly enough sources in this blog post.

    However, “proper zoning” means big setbacks, and lots of land taken off the potential residential real estate market. CAFOs mean fewer people living in the neighborhood. What does it profit us to sell more hogs if there’s no one close by to share the wealth and spend their money in town?

    “Proper zoning” could just as easily support small farms. Who says we have to throw in on the commodity market? Who says we can’t focus on local production, handled by small producers, offering more opportunities for more people to work in farming, feed their neighbors, and support their community? Who says plugging into global industry with factory meat and grains is the only model or the best model for Yankton County.

    The thing is, you can’t really do both. Sure, building one CAFO doesn’t by itself drive small farmers out of business. I understand the global point you’re making. But turning the county over to big producers, meat and grain both, crowds out the little producers who might want to stick around. Even small farmers don’t want to be stunk out of their big organic gardens by a mega-CAFO. They don’t want their tomatoes and rutabagas killed by dicamba drift from the industrial planters a mile down the road.

    If we cap CAFO size, yes, we restrict our producers’ ability to plug into the global commodity production chain. If we let CAFOs dominate, we drive out local producers…. although I am open to counterexamples: can you show me a place where industrial ag has synergy with small-scale ag? Do mega-CAFOs ever create economic factors that spur surrounding micro-operations to start up and grow? I

  12. Donald Pay 2019-05-01 08:47

    Here’s my message for ten years in the future for the agvocrats: Factory meat has had its day. Stem cell meat will have a say. Real meat is back to stay. Factory farms will be squeezed in two directions: by real factory meat from stem cells and from “real meat.” Factory farming will be found inefficient compared to cultured meat, which will out compete the CAFO factory farm model. But , also, people will gravitate more toward real meat grown naturally from more local sources. People in large cities will increasingly want to know the source of their meat, how it is grown and processed. People will consume less meat, but when they do eat meat, they will want quality product.

  13. Mike Fuller 2019-05-01 13:58

    So pitting big against small. How many head is big and how many is small? Is when you hire help considered big and doing all the work with family considered small. A CAFO with 1000 animal units doesn’t generate enough profit to be considered a full time job. I’m just wondering the definition of big and small

  14. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-01 18:23

    I don’t know that I’m pitting anyone against anyone. There are big operations pitting themselves against individual landowners, non-farmers, and other folks who don’t like pig poop in their water and nostrils.

    But what is “big”? That’s a fair question, to which I don’t have an immediate answer… but statute might. The law recognizes distinct gradations of “big” requiring increasing levels of regulation to protect us from the increasing levels of pollution. And where there’s big, there’s probably a level we can identify as “too big,” i.e., producing more waste than is sustainable for a healthy and diverse local economy.

    Small outfits can pollute, too. Individuals can be nuisances. The point probably isn’t as simple as “big” versus “small”. The point is probably more about balancing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness: when does one operation take too much of the pie and deny too much of others’ rights to enjoy living in the community doing their own thing?

  15. Bradley Hohn 2019-05-01 18:46

    Reading all of the responses and opposition to a very well stated explanation by Darin never ceases to amaze me. Everyone is quick to point out Google search information as if it is gospel. On the flip side they refuse to believe or consider the other fact set. The term CAFO is thrown around like a swear word. In reality I would bet most of you have never been exposed to the strict standards producers must follow to produce quality food. Organic and locally raised are the terms you throw around. The reality of both is they are unregulated and pose by far a greater risk to the food system. However, that being said I welcome everyone of them to produce what they can and serve the market they carve out. In the end they will never be able to produce enough food no matter what you think.
    The anti CAFO groups act like the people are slaves working for some unnamed corporate giant that is abusing them and killing the rest of America. I can only assume by that standard everyone that feels that way is self employed and works for no one. If that’s not the case, quit throwing rocks in glass houses. Equally I hope none of you use the internet to do any shopping. Further more you use a technology medium, the internet, to attack technology used in agriculture. Hypocrisy in its most basic form.
    Finally how can the same group of people that rally against GMO products say lab grown protein sources are the wave of the future. What a ridiculous stance. We as farmers do not come to town and wish to build farms. If you do not want to be around farming practices stay in town. Farmers having to get permits to farm is insane. People moving to the county acreages should be the ones getting permits to live in an ag district.

  16. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-01 19:13

    Note, Bradley, I’m not rallying against GMO products. That’s not part of this argument.

    Industrial-scale agriculture has externalities, whether it’s an honest-to-goodness independent operation or a corporate branch. Industrial-scale agriculture, driven logically by the corporate food processing and distribution system, does crowd out opportunities for smaller players to make money, regardless of whether they are growing “organic” products or not.

    Can small-scale, locally focused agriculture feed us? That’s open for debate. Most metro areas don’t, but that’s in large part because of the production system we’ve chosen. We could choose other systems. We could choose to dedicate more land to organic production, which would do less environmental harm, would bring down the price of organic food (supply, meet demand), and would increase antional security by making our food supply less susceptible to disruptions of international transportation or Trump tariffs. We could choose to eat less meat (I know, a hard choice, but still a choice worth keeping in mind as we pay for crappy water and air).

    I wonder if realtors use the term CAFO with some disdain when it lowers the value of the residential property they are trying to sell.

  17. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-01 19:17

    And here I go Googling again, finding that a lot of studies indicate Bradley’s unsourced conclusion that organic and locally raised food “will never be able to produce enough food no matter what you think” is an exaggeration:

    But the long-standing argument that organic farming would yield just one-third or one-half of conventional farming was based on biased assumptions and lack of data. For example, the often-cited statistic that switching to organic farming in the United States would only yield one-quarter of the food currently produced there is based on a U.S. Department of Agriculture study showing that all the manure in the United States could only meet one-quarter of the nation’s fertilizer needs-even though organic farmers depend on much more than just manure.

    More up-to-date research refutes these arguments. For example, a recent study by scientists at the Research Institute for Organic Agriculture in Switzerland showed that organic farms were only 20 percent less productive than conventional plots over a 21-year period. Looking at more than 200 studies in North America and Europe, Per Pinstrup Andersen (a Cornell professor and winner of the World Food Prize) and colleagues recently concluded that organic yields were about 80 percent of conventional yields. And many studies show an even narrower gap. Reviewing 154 growing seasons’ worth of data on various crops grown on rain-fed and irrigated land in the United States, University of California-Davis agricultural scientist Bill Liebhardt found that organic corn yields were 94 percent of conventional yields, organic wheat yields were 97 percent, and organic soybean yields were 94 percent. Organic tomatoes showed no yield difference.

    More importantly, in the world’s poorer nations where most of the world’s hungry live, the yield gaps completely disappear. University of Essex researchers Jules Pretty and Rachel Hine looked at over 200 agricultural projects in the developing world that converted to organic and ecological approaches, and found that for all the projects-involving 9 million farms on nearly 30 million hectares-yields increased an average of 93 percent. A seven-year study from Maikaal District in central India involving 1,000 farmers cultivating 3,200 hectares found that average yields for cotton, wheat, chili, and soy were as much as 20 percent higher on the organic farms than on nearby conventionally managed ones. Farmers and agricultural scientists attributed the higher yields in this dry region to the emphasis on cover crops, compost, manure, and other practices that increased organic matter (which helps retain water) in the soils. A study from Kenya found that while organic farmers in “high-potential areas” (those with above-average rainfall and high soil quality) had lower maize yields than nonorganic farmers, organic farmers in areas with poorer resource endowments consistently outyielded conventional growers. (In both regions, organic farmers had higher net profits, return on capital, and return on labor.)

    Contrary to critics who jibe that it’s going back to farming like our grandfathers did or that most of Africa already farms organically and it can’t do the job, organic farming is a sophisticated combination of old wisdom and modern ecological innovations that help harness the yield-boosting effects of nutrient cycles, beneficial insects, and crop synergies. It’s heavily dependent on technology-just not the technology that comes out of a chemical plant [Brian Halwell, “Can Organic Farming Feed Us All?,” Worldwatch Institute, no date given, retrieved 2019.05.01].

    CAFOs don’t appear to be the only path away from starvation. If we have a choice between a few people farming with lots of industrial inputs and more people farming with smarter, less polluting inputs, and we get to eat enough either way, what’s wrong with tipping the balance back toward human-scale, cleaner food production?

  18. Adam 2019-05-01 19:29

    Cory is right on the money about organic vs chemical farming.

    Leave it to folks who hand their kids a shotgun before they would ever hand them a book to claim, “chemicals don’t hurt nothin; chemicals are all good all of the time. Fact is, cain’t do nothing without chemicals. Why liberals gotta hate chemicals so much?”

  19. grudznick 2019-05-01 19:39

    Don’t believe everything you read on the internets, people.

    I read something that said

    people who grow all their own food in their back yard and eat only free range chickens starve to death on average within three years

    which would seem to indicate you can’t grow all of your own food and need to go to the grocery every once in a while. Certainly one can’t brew enough beer and whittle enough toilet paper to satisfy all their own needs.

  20. Adam 2019-05-01 19:43

    Grudz thinks somebody claimed “one man can indeed be an island.” LOL – Talk about ‘gross misinterpretation’ of absolutely everything.

  21. Cathy 2019-05-02 07:15

    I don’t need the internet–all I have to do drive around Iowa and Minnesota to learn that the vertically integrated, corporate CAFO model is unsustainable. It only works if it continues to expand and pass costs onto to taxpayers. Stop expansion and/or welfare and it crashes like an pyramid scheme.

  22. Cory Allen Heidelberger Post author | 2019-05-04 18:30

    Donald mentions stem-cell meat, meat grown in the lab instead of chopped from slaughtered animals. I have to admit, I’ll want lots of testing to make sure I won’t start growing testicles on my elbow. And I imagine if we get to replicator meat like on the Enterprise, there will always be a debate between the merits of authentic erstwhile hoofed meat and the test-tube imitation as surely Mr. Scott swears he can tell the difference between synthehol and and the good green stuff that knocked out his good Andromedan friend.

    But hey—if I’ll eat hot dogs, I probably shouldn’t balk at lab meat that is chemically identical to meat that once walked. And if the science shows laboratories can produce a healthy protein supply at comparable cost with less environmental impact that watering and feeding critters, we’ll have to think really hard about why we’d want to keep killing animals to eat.

  23. Porter Lansing 2019-05-04 19:00

    With the pink slime ruling, you may never know.

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