The Industrial Farming Revolution
February 11, 2024
In my last blog post, I shared more about what Regenerative Farming is. You can read that post here.
To recap regenerative farming is an approach deeply rooted in principles of sustainability, biodiversity, and ecological stewardship. At its core, regenerative farming is nurturing the land, fostering resilience, and creating a more harmonious relationship between agriculture and nature.
Today's blog we are moving into section 2 of my series on Regenerative Farming and it's future.
This time switching gears to "what's the industrial farming model" look like today and how we got here along with a little bit of my backstory as I started my agriculture career.
The Industrial Agricultural Revolution
Agriculture forever changed when the industrial revolution came about. Hence the reason we call conventional farming “Industrial Agriculture”.
100 years ago, the agriculture industry didn’t have the capacity to produce the quantity of food it does today with such efficiencies. We’ve seen the ag industry go from over 40% of the U.S. population as farmers to today less than 1%.....all this because of the industrial revolution.
The start of it was the increase in horsepower….aka the tractor!
After the end of world war 2 ...Manufacturing plants quickly changed their production lines from tanks and army vehicles to building tractors and machines that would forever change the amount of acres 1 farmer can manage.
Then all the manufacturers that created warfare chemicals began developing chemicals to spray our crops to kill destructive pests and unwanted weeds. Then the same compounds that helped develop bombs were now manufacturing synthetic fertilizers to boost crop yields.
All of these advances allowed farmers to abundantly produce monoculture grain crops.
This quickly changed how food was produced. Growing grains was more efficient, higher yielding and more convenient than ever in the history of the world.
There’s no arguing these facts either. I sure don’t….The industrial agriculture system is efficient.
In the 1970's, government policy began to favor industrial farming, and agriculture secretary Earl Butz told farmers to “get big or get out.”
Then in the 1980's Monsanto’s weed killer roundup and their patent technology for Genetically Modified seed to withstand the chemical made the grain production even more efficient.
Quickly with the abundance of grains produced…This drove down the cost of grains. Allowing for the factory livestock farms (CAFOs) to come onto the scene.
The cost to raise chicken and pork quickly became less expensive as they designed highly efficient climate controlled buildings that would house 10,000s of animals in a single building.
Then came the feedlots as it became cost effective to feed cattle high amounts of grains to fatten them up quickly! (remember grain fed beef is the new thing…not grass-fed. lol)
Then new biotechnologies came onto the market to improve the efficiency of the livestock industry all the more to keep animals alive in these unnatural condition/environment that they were raised in.
Growth promoters, antibiotics, and other technologies to improve quicker muscle growth and keep animals alive.
When there was a new problem that arrived, no worries one of these company's was developing a product handle that symptom.
Educate the farmers
These technologies are no joke either. There were so many great classes I took at the University of Wisconsin that taught me about all the advances we’ve made in food production through science. I learned exactly how their drugs worked on an animal or plant all the way down to the molecular level.
Quite fascinating, to say the least and as a young adult I loved learning the advances!
While I was in College, the Big Corporate Gurus would come to give their talks and share how our advances are producing food cheaper and more efficiently than ever.
And they were absolutely right!
We had 1 mission as an American farmer…..Feed the world! It was our mission not to feed our local community, but to feed the whole world was the standard message and our duty.
Because no one else in other countries knew how to farm like we did.
Therefore the focus was yield, quick production, and efficiency no matter the costs…yes that means higher costs for the farmer on inputs, but there was just enough profit.... some years to keep the American farmer in business for the next year.
I have to say going into college as a young man with ambitions of farming, I felt pretty proud of myself learning about all the science advances and how I could help old farmers be more productive and efficient on their farm. You could say I had a little bit of an ego as a 23 year old college graduate ;)
Who doesn’t want efficient and productive farming systems that produce us lower cost food?
It sounds pretty good? Right?
However, I have to say….my mindset has changed on this…
And 1 decade later, I am a different person in how I view food and farming. Very different from how my college education taught me.
Our next blog’s post I’m going to share why our current farming model is broken titled “Industrial Ag’s paradigm: Cheap food, but an unsustainable system”.
Stay tuned until next time. Thanks for reading.