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On the death of my family's dairy farm (abevoelker.com)
255 points by howard941 45 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 257 comments

This is not just an environmental and animal welfare concern, although it certainly is those things. But it's also a national security issue of the first order.

One of the ways big factory farms work so efficiently is by utilizing mono-cropping. They'll plant acre after acre after acre of exactly the same strain of a crop. That gets their efficiency, and hence their profit margin, as high as possible. You don't have to do anything differently in order to support two strains of corn or soybeans. You con't have to worry about one breed of milk cow being more susceptible to disease or giving milk with a different fat content. All your equipment is the same, all of your chemical inputs are the same, all of your processes are the same.

That works fine when it works. But when it doesn't work it can go completely to hell. One pathogen could conceivably wipe out a large portion of America's entire corn or soybean crop. Significant enough climate change could as well. A single new strain of disease, if it were robust enough to spread through the air or via wildlife, could kill huge fractions of our cattle or pigs. It's not inconceivable that we could go from large surpluses of cheap food one year to widespread hunger the next, with just the wrong set of circumstances.

We've not just improved farming efficient. We've gutted the natural robustness of what used to be a distributed agricultural system.

This post contains many factual or implication errors.

Monoculture isn't new, and isn't driven by corporate megafarms. Monoculture is as old as human civilization. Planting large areas of land with a single crop is just the default way of doing things. It was made more solid not recently, but 100 years ago with mechanization. Crop rotation though has been a part of agriculture for thousands of years and is still done at any scale.

Almost all mass produced crops are F1 hybrids. There isn't "one strain" being planted en mass. Hybrids are tuned to have different features depending on need. Different climates will use crops with varying days to maturity. Different fields or sections of fields will use hybrids for drought/flood tolerance, resistance to different pests or diseases (which are cyclical and regional), and different end uses (grains for cattle feed, for brewing into biofuels, for oil extraction, for human consumption, etc.), and for different soil conditions.

This is in contrast to the common FUD about bananas which are indeed all exact genetic copies and have gone through a global crop failure in the past.

>We've not just improved farming efficient. We've gutted the natural robustness of what used to be a distributed agricultural system.

I don't know when you think this natural robustness golden age was, but crop failures have been around as long as human civilization and we are now more prepared and resilient to these things than any time before, not less, because there are a large number of people with a lot of interest in designing the plants we use to survive to be able to respond to a variety of conditions.

Notwithstanding other reasonable points:

> It was made more solid not recently, but 100 years ago with mechanization

100 years ago is recent for a lot of purposes. Evaluating sustainability of an agricultural practice is one of them.

not for the purposes of responding to a comment making many wild claims about industrial scale farming

A few counterpoints:

"Monoculture isn't new, and isn't driven by corporate megafarms. Monoculture is as old as human civilization."

Sure, individual farms have planted monocultures for thousands of years. But different farmers would often plant different strains. So in one area you'd have a couple of different cultivars, whereas now all of those farms are owned by the same entities and are typically planting exactly the same thing. As the farms get bigger and more uniform, what they plant gets more uniform too.

This is driven by a bunch of different factors, but one way or another nearly all of them can be traced back to the drive to optimize efficiency of production over everything else.

"Almost all mass produced crops are F1 hybrids. "

Yep. But hybrids of a relatively small set of parents. And that's the problem. They're all either the exact same strain, or they're related strains.

Compare, eg, against a "heritage" seed catalog. You get hundreds of strains. We used to grow those. The genetic diversity was higher then.

In Mexico, the historical record doesn't show hundreds of strains. It shows thousands. Thousands upon thousands. There is corn that's optimized to grow in upland deserts, and in salty soil, and in areas with a much shorter growing period - less than 60 days.

"I don't know when you think this natural robustness golden age was, but crop failures have been around as long as human civilization and we are now more prepared and resilient to these things than any time before, not less, because there are a large number of people with a lot of interest in designing the plants we use to survive to be able to respond to a variety of conditions."

It is absolutely true that as farming has become more scientific, we've gotten smarter about how to deal with pathogens after the fact. We have much better chemical controls now, and we have better biosecurity procedures to prevent diseases from spreading.


You seem to be taking the stance that because we're better at dealing with one aspect of crop pathogens, therefore we're better at dealing with crop pathogens, period. I disagree. Just as with human diseases, it's entirely possible to on one hand have much better medicines available but on the other hand still be more susceptible to epidemics due to other factors that have gotten worse - antibiotic resistance, global travel, etc.

In the case of crop pathogens, we're more susceptible than we otherwise would have been because the genetic diversity of our major crop systems is nearly nonexistent. This is why seed banks are a thing - because ag scientists realize that at some point we'll run into a pathogen for which none of our chemical treatments are effective, and genetic resistance is our only chance -- and therefore we must preserve the genes of as many different varieties as possible.

This is what is happening with bananas, and possibly with cacao as well (black pod disease)... and citrus (citrus greening)... and maybe even wheat (stem rust). The point being, chemical responses to crop pathogens often aren't sufficient. Genetic modification might be, but personally I'd rather not place all my eggs in that basket.

For those who don't know the story: we used to all eat Gros Michel bananas. You can't buy a Gros Michel banana anymore; fusarium nearly wiped out the entire cultivar. We didn't, and still don't, have an effective chemical response to fusarium. So we switched to Cavendish, which was resistant. Now a new strain of fusarium is killing Cavendish, and it isn't clear what we're going to switch to next.


Bananas are an extreme case because bananas are grown through root cuttings, ie they're all genetically identical, as you said above. Corn isn't as genetically fragile as bananas. But it's heading there.

You absolutely can still buy a Gros Michel[1], they're just not the standard cultivar anymore due to Panama disease. Bananas as a whole are incredibly varied - the Cavendish was selected primarily due to being able to be grown in similar conditions as the Gros Michel and shipping well. Monoculture has problems, but it's not like there's no chance of recovery from crop disease.

[1] https://miamifruit.org/products/gros-michel-banana-box-pre-o...

Dairy cattle are the poster children for a varied diet. They eat many kinds of waste such as distillers' grains, peanut hulls, beet pulp. They don't care where their corn silage comes from and they can even consume and detoxify aflatoxin-laden corn that cannot be placed into any other food supply. I'm not sure that larger dairy farms are going to have more of a monoculture attitude toward their supply of feed.

We have fed our dairy cows potatoes, they love them. Happens any time the prices of potatoes drops significantly (joys of dairying in Idaho). I have a picture of my potato loving wife sitting on a 5 ton pile of potatoes like it is her thrown.

Aflatoxins are excreted in milk. You shouldn't feed aflatoxin-laden feed to dairy animals.

At low enough amounts, aflatoxin will be destroyed in the rumen, and won't enter the bloodstream.

And although it takes over 5mg of cyanide is enough to kill a human, it doesn't mean you can safely season your soup with 20mg for a family of 5...


There are safe levels in both lactating and non-lactating cows. It's already an acceptable use.

20 parts per billion isn't "consuming" aflatoxin-laden feed - it's eating regular feed with trace contamination. That there are guidelines for achieving this "safe" dilution makes you wonder why the effort is being spent there instead of using the grain for other purposes. Also worth reminding that these measurements are taken via random sampling - as per my cyanide example.

Dont intentionally feed aflatoxins to dairy animals! (or any animals, really...)

I'm not referring to mono cropping for animal feed. I'm referring to mono cropping for human consumption. A large fraction of the calories in your diet likely comes from corn, if you live in the US and get your food from the grocery store.

There used to be hundreds, maybe thousands of varieties of corn grown regularly in the US. There aren't any more. It's hard to tell how many corn varieties that are grown commercially in relevant quantities, but it's certainly less than fifty, and maybe less than twenty.

Less genetic diversity means less robustness to changing pathogens and climate.

I generally agree with you but FWIW most of the corn (90%+) grown in the US goes into animal feed, e.g. for cows.

Which is of course its own little tragedy, considering you get 1 calorie of cow for every 12 calories of corn.

Maybe 1 calorie of cow per 12 of corn, but dairy cows are much more efficient than that:

Cow eats 40.57 MCAl/day [1]

Produces 45.5 KGS of milk [1]

Milk 610 kcal/liter

Energy of cows milk per day 27.755 MCAL

Cow milk efficiency 68%

This feels high as a gut reaction, maybe calculation is missing energy to grow the cow. Still it shows how efficient they are!

Would love a source for your cow meat efficiency numbers, I'm currently exploring efficiency of fermentation methods to produce meat alternatives and that would be a helpful data point.

Source: [1] http://www.milkproduction.com/Library/Scientific-articles/Nu...

Don't underestimate the contribution of the "energy to grow the cow". Dairy cows don't start producing until they're 2 years old and are typically only kept around until age 5 or 6. That's a full third (or more) of their lives with no output whatsoever.

My god that's brilliant. Cows more efficient than the combustion engine?

This was true several decades ago, but now about 1/3 of it used to manufacture ethanol due to the US transition to gasoline having 10% ethanol content. It is still very much true that far more of it goes to animal feed than food for humans though.


Note that a byproduct of ethanol production is distillers grains[1] which are used as an animal feed. Also worth noting that the percentage of corn used for direct human consumption has stayed at around 10-20% before, during, and after the ramp up in ethanol production:

Ethanol + animal feed chart: https://i.imgur.com/1QqPTje.png

Ethanol production chart: https://i.imgur.com/3wwzkIi.png

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distillers_grains

FWIW, that (sorta) still counts as "comes from corn".

That's a good point, thanks.

In practice having more different varieties of corn didn't really give us more protection against pests or pathogens.

It’s a great example of how “normal” minded people need to be wary of extremists on the left and right.

The people fighting to kill dairy are mostly transitioning people to soy grown in a region depleting it’s groundwater to pump out surplus and nuts grown in a few California counties.

The consolidation effects kill agriculture everywhere else. There were 50 vegetable farms within 20 miles of my home in 1981. Today there are 3.

Good thing California has no long term risks from a transport or water POV.

Oat milk is a pretty hot milk replacement, at least on the east coast. My grocery store has trouble keeping up with demand.

I’d be curious in a study comparing environmental impact of soy milk vs dairy. I suspect soy would still come out ahead, given how much cows eat and drink (not to mention what they excrete).

A lot of soy goes to animal feed and eating soy directly is a lot more efficient than giving it to a cow first.

Feedlots mostly use corn, not soy.

And again, my issue is with the agriculture policy that demands scale up agriculture. The government created these problems in search of low prices and other political goals.

The dairy farm that i worked on as a kid had about 50 cows and didn’t have the impact that massive operations have, and grew a lot of its own fodder. Again it’s a stark difference... probably 100 dairy operations in my county when I was a kid, and I’d guest 12-20 now, most of whom are probably going to be gone in the next year.

The majority of soy goes to feeding animals ... http://www.wisoybean.org/news/soybean_facts.php

That says that the majority of soy meal goes to animal feed. I couldn't actually get the amount of soy beans used for animal feed. Perhaps you can find it.

According to this [1], they were forecasting about 4,200 million bushels of soybeans being harvested in 2016 with nearly 2,000 million bushels being exported (about 47 percent according to the source).

I tried to find a reputable source for soy bean use in the US and failed, but some sources I was able to find (mostly vegan activist groups) stated that 80% of soy bean use is for meal while 20% is for oil. Of the 80% used for meal, 97-98% is used for animal feed while 2-3% is used for food.

As far as I can tell that means that if we round things up to the nearest 10%, about half of the soybeans grown are exported, 40% is used for animal feed (cattle, chickens and pigs) 10% for oil (of which some is cooking oil) and a negligible amount used directly for human consumption.

Possible the parent was considering only cattle consumption because another source I found suggested that you don't want to feed cattle more than 15-25% of their diet on soy because they can't digest it. Chickens and pigs presumably don't have the same problem.

I find it interesting that in truth the largest category of "use" for soybeans in the US is as an export trade good. I wasn't actually following the discussion above closely so I'm not sure how it impacts anything. However, it occurs to me that possibly the land could be put to better use. However it was also interesting to me that according to your source Wisconsin has 11K soybean growers over 1.6 million acres. That's an average farm size of 145 acres. As a person who grew up in the prairies of Canada but now lives in Japan, that seems to me to be both not so big and also gigantic :-) (I don't think I've ever seen a Japanese farm bigger than about 30 acres!)

[1] - https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/crops/soybeans-oil-crops/rel...

Most of the soy exported to China is used for pigs, I think, about a 20% mix. See https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-usa-trade-china-soymeal-i...

> It's not inconceivable that we could go from large surpluses of cheap food one year to widespread hunger the next

Can't the US just import a big portion of its food for a couple years, until the situation is back to normal?

Assuming the crisis is limited to just the U.S., maybe. Otherwise no, because everyone would be suffering and stockpiling what they could for their own citizens. There are also geopolitical concerns, such as pricing those exports very dearly, or withholding them barring some concessions.

> Otherwise no, because everyone would be suffering and stockpiling what they could for their own citizens.

This is not how it works. People going hungry in spite of their country having a good crop is a sadly regular theme throughout history. Crops going to the highest bidder and crops going to whoever has the most political influence are sadly regular occurrences. (the most recent example of relatively widespread hunger of this sort that I'm aware of occurred in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, although economics isn't really my thing)

Three things a superpower should never outsource:

* energy production

* food supply

* coinage

Plus: * manufacturing * security-sensitive or military electronics

The American MBAs proudly proclaimed the quarterly profits from outsourcing what they saw as menial and fungible manufacturing operations to exploit cheap labor zones such as China.

Meanwhile, China has a longer view, including 500-year plans. They are strategically building the hard-won knowledge and processes to effectively and efficiently manufacture goods, and expropriating the IP for design. Beyond that, they are now manufacturing many mission-critical and eavesdropping-capable components used in our defense operations.

So, while we think we're exploiting their cheap labor, they are exploiting our myopic focus on short term profits.

This advantage squandered for a few company's short-term profits will be recorded as one of history's great strategic blunders.

> That works fine when it works. But when it doesn't work it can go completely to hell. One pathogen could conceivably wipe out a large portion of America's entire corn or soybean crop.

Can this realistically happen? Are there examples of this happening? If it's such an obvious catastrophic problem just waiting to happen why don't farmers or the government do anything about it?

The most famous example in recent history is the Great Irish Famine, a.k.a. the Irish Potato Famine: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Famine_(Ireland)

The most well known example of this is the Gros Michel banana. It used to be the main type of banana sold in stores until a disease called Panama disease wiped out nearly all of them.

Are there more recent examples given this is from the 1950s? If not, is there a reason there aren't more recent examples?

Other than alfalfa, the vast majority of the farms that I know of that supply large dairies take advantage of crop rotations. These are from crop farms that supply large dairies in Minnesota and South Dakota.

As someone who hates large corporations (I think I spend most of my HN time nowadays railing against big tech) and a vegan this hits me at a weird spot. CAFO’s are horrible to the land and the poor cows trapped in them. Greater volume equals greater profit and less concern on an individual…

Small dairy farms are better in a few ways, but cows still live there for a fraction of their natural life spans, calves are taken from their mom’s while way too young because we use their milk for our own consumption. Say all you want about “they’re bred that way” but that all seems to be a guise for getting what we want out of them. I’m sure small farmers care about their cows, but I’m also sure their perspective is shaped by the need to make a living from them.

Where this all comes to head now, with falling demand in milk and rising big companies, is rough. We’ll have more mistreated cows and larger businesses taking over. Society will change over time and should, we’re on the verge of environmental apocalypse it seems and meat and dairy are a part of it[1], finding a way to support those who need to change industries humanely is key.

[1] http://www.fao.org/3/a0701e/a0701e00.htm

I view veganism as an attempt to escape, in part, an exploitative system. I find it incredibly clear that nearly every aspect of our lives and way of living are exploitative in various ways: we exploit people economically and through warfare, we exploit the natural world around us with little concern, we exploit animals.

We are going to have to turn around and start a process of restoration soon, which is going to be far harder and will require much more organization. Exploitation is easy. Restoration is work.

As you mention, there are huge sectors of our society that work in exploitative industries, and "their perspective is shaped by the need to make a living from them", but given the difficulties that we will face in fighting our current ecological disasters, they shouldn't fear. Work will be in high demand on the other side, it will simply be different.

Vegan here; first part of the above comment hits nail on head. When people ask me about the [apparent] contradictions associated with being vegan and also participating in industrial society, I mention something about my view of veganism being, at its most fundamental level, a personal stance intended to minimize exploitation.

In your last sentence, were you meaning to minimize animal explotation (or just exploitation in general)?

I ask because I think veganism is often confused with lots of other good things..

I like to refer to the original (AFAICT) definition: https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism

"Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose."

(I posted that link yesterday too, but have no affiliation with the site)

It seeks to exclude, where possible, where practicable. It doesn't rail against industrialisation or the global economy. It's not directly concerned with the environment or being kind or being healthy or improving human conditions. Those are all Good Things, but separate things.

When I get asked those questions (and the 'where do you get your protein', 'what about if you were on a desert island?', 'where do you get your protein?', 'what about happy cows?', 'where do you get your protein?', 'what about grass fed cows|chikens|whateva?', etc) I say that I'm vegan because I don't believe there is any need for the society I live in to use animals for any purpose. I'm okay with contradictions and inconsistencies - I evaluate and make the best choice I can, day by day. Those choices add up over time.

If I get pressed, then I posit two questions: 1) Do you know of any animals that proactively seek out death? 2) At the end of an animal farming process, does the animal die?

So if animals are killed at the end of a farming process, and no animals want proactively to die; the only reason I'd support that regime is for my own selfish preferences.

Given there are viable alternatives, I have the option of choosing not to support the systematic death of hundreds of millions of animals every day. Sounds rational and good to me.

That logic still dumbfounds my family - literally speechless, even in 2019. Sigh.

> If I get pressed, then I posit two questions: 1) Do you know of any animals that proactively seek out death? 2) At the end of an animal farming process, does the animal die?

Are you serious?

Disease, starvation, predation, accidents -- you are aware that animals do in fact die outside of farms, yes?

You are aware of the classification 'carnivore' yes?

What about agriculture? It destroys the environment, destroys animal habitats causing them sometimes to go extinct.

What about the worms in the soil getting chopped up by farm equipment? What about necessary pesticides that kill insect life?

Maybe we should blow up the entire planet to end all of the suffering once and for all.

It dumbfounds your family probably because they're more capable of critical thought than you are. Like a lot of 'activists' I seriously doubt you do anything in your life that actually improves life on this plant for people or any living thing.

Veganism is about people searching for identity. It's a marginally difficult diet to follow and it gives you something to constantly complain about, thereby drawing attention to yourself.

If you want to actually change the world for the better go do it. It's hard. You probably don't have what it takes. Stop pretending your soy latte makes one modicum of difference and stop whining about what others choose to eat.

This doesn't make sense. That parent commenter said they avoid killing animals, and your reply is they shouldn't bother because animals still die.

It's like if I said, "I don't hunt people for sport" and someone replied,

"Disease, starvation, accidents -- you are aware that humans do in fact die outside of being hunted, yes?"

Sure, they die. What does that have to do with the morality of killing them?

Your critical thinking mind doesn't see a difference between "Disease, starvation, predation, accidents" and farming? Same goes for "getting chopped up by farm equipment"?

I'm sure you are slaughtering yourself due to necessity or true accident. If not, you might think less condescending about those lazy vegans which are actually making a tiny effort in their lives to choose things with less animal suffering involved then you are when there are alternatives.

Apart from that choice (mostly in the supermarket or shop) I don't see any reason to think you are better than "them" in any point of life. There might be even some which are more productive in the way you think matters most.

> Disease, starvation, predation, accidents -- you are aware that animals do in fact die outside of farms, yes?

> You are aware of the classification 'carnivore' yes?

Perhaps my first question wasn't clear enough - I'm talking about animals that proactively seek out their own death; not carnivores that kill over things - sorry for the confusion. The context was that for me, it's not okay to go killing animals because we fed them well / gave them some free space before we killed them. One of the reasons that it's not okay is that it's unnecessary because we have alternatives.

> What about agriculture? It destroys the environment, destroys animal habitats causing them sometimes to go extinct.

Yes, agriculture destroys land, trees, ecosystems. Are you suggesting that animal production is in some way less destructive? If I recall correctly something like a 1/3 of global crop production goes into animal feed.

> What about the worms in the soil getting chopped up by farm equipment? What about necessary pesticides that kill insect life?

Worms and pesticides are straw-man arguments, so I'll pass on getting bogged down on that tangent.

> It dumbfounds your family probably because they're more capable of critical thought than you are.

That's interesting - I never said I was an activist. I shared some points of view. My family are very critical. They get all the benefits of sitting in a microcosm and ignoring the rest of the world. Ignorance truly is bliss for them.

> Like a lot of 'activists' I seriously doubt you do anything in your life that actually improves life on this plant for people or any living thing.

Nah, that's not true. I'm not overly keen to share specifics because I prefer some semblance of privacy here. I make choices in the small that, IMO, add up over time: No leather for the last 20 years (belts, shoes, car seats, jackets, etc). No silk. No meat, dairy, eggs, fish, insects etc. No international flights. Found the second-smallest small car that would fit a family of three. Commute to work on public transport. Buy local organic food that is freakishly expensive but IMO better for the environment. Provided a safe home for two rescue dogs (took them two years to feel safe and confident after their experiences).

> Veganism is about people searching for identity. It's a marginally difficult diet to follow and it gives you something to constantly complain about, thereby drawing attention to yourself.

Yes, it does seem to be that for many people I've met. It often seems to draw the type of person who likes to be on the outside, throwing stones. Now that it becoming more mainstream, this is thankfully less so. Some awesome people here on HN, too. Hi!

> If you want to actually change the world for the better go do it. It's hard. You probably don't have what it takes.

Here I am, talking to you, right?

> Stop pretending your soy latte makes one modicum of difference and stop whining about what others choose to eat.

Nah, it's too important to not discuss.

Question for you - you said it's hard changing that world? How do you know?

I feel you on the constant side-track 'what if?' questions for sure!

For my part, I don't cleave to the Vegan Society's definition of 'vegan,' or anybody else's but mine, for that matter. I use the word only as a generally-comprehensible shorthand for the choice schema I dig. In particular, my notion of'veganism' has a lot to do with environmental impact considerations and also discards the notion that humans and nonhuman animals are to be considered separately.

So, in answer to your initial question : yes minimize animal exploitation, yes that includes humans, and yes to also minimizing other types of exploitation.

One good, if jarring and sometimes a little eurocentric, book that shaped a lot of my ethical views along these lines is "Plant-Thinking" by Michael Marder

p.s. edit -- to clarify re : 'industrial society' comment : generally the thrust of folks' questions to me on that topic is along the lines of "Well, the exploitation of animals is so woven into the fabric of our society that for a person to credibly claim an honest effort in distancing themselves from it, they'd have to go be some kind of Edenic hermit out in the papaya-laden jungle. Hell, even the glue that holds your shoes together is probably animal-hide-derived. Your violin is probably finished with an insect-based varnish! Etc etc etc etc" Just like the "what ifs," a litany of difficulties, real or invented, that folks think might stand in the way of a logically consistent 'vegan' choice. [p.s. why people desire logical consistency in other folks' consumer choices in the first place is well beyond me]

Yes, the litany of difficulties that provide a scaffold upon which people can give themselves permission to do... nothing. I wonder if sometimes a clearly vocalized moral view strikes people as judgemental, so there is a reactive need to identify inconsistencies?

Interesting point of view regarding definition of vegan.. Not trying to annoy you, but surely the society that coined the term should be the reference for describing what that term means?

Thanks for the book link - it looks quite densely written and I'm embarrassed to say I struggled to follow the 'introduction' preview on Amazon. If you did find it of value, then I'll take that as a recommendation and make an attempt at it.

I think you're on to something there in re: clearly vocalized morals --> strikes people as judgmental and therefore provokes attempts to dismantle.

Re : definition : the funny thing is that, if I recall correctly, the Vegan Society's original raison d'etre was that they objected to the increasing liberality of people calling themselves "vegetarian" [eating cheese and such, whereas the V.S. felt that a 'vegetarian' ought to abstain from all animal products like Bronson Alcott, etc]. I guess I just don't place sufficient value in the label itself to give credence to any particular definition thereof -- it's just a shorthand to me, not a -- I dunno, uh, organized moral affiliation?

p.s. I used to say "strict vegetarian," but not only did people take that as being more strident than "vegan," but then when they found out I [for example] also didn't wear silk, they'd be like "oh you're veeegan!" and I be like "OK, as you wish!"

re : the Marder book : no need for embarrassment -- Marder is kind of a space cadet and roughly half the book is dedicated to ruminations on dead European philosophers -- it's kind of a chore to machete one's way through. BUT! The other half of it is actually some pretty arresting insights [or, at least, questions!] concerning ethics + morality + exploitation + hierarchy + organisms. I started it thinking Marder was a fool and finished it thinking he was the sharpest axe in the shed.

I often get “side channel” attacks - the classic “will you still only eat plants once it’s proven they feel pain, too” or “what’s next? Give animals rights and a say into government?” I excuse myself from the “conversation”

As a counterpoint, similar to the user above, what about the exploitation of farm labor to harvest everything you eat?

As far back as 1997, over half of all grain grown in the US goes to livestock [1]. So, going from animal protein to plant protein is a net reduction of farm labor and therefore requires less exploitation.

[1] https://news.cornell.edu/stories/1997/08/us-could-feed-800-m...

The thing is, as someone who grew up in the corn belt on a farm, grain farmers by and large aren't involved in exploitative labor practices to any significant degree. The only farms I was aware of that used immigrant labor were feedlot and dairy operations. One of my close friends in high school certainly came from a large farm (16k acres, mostly corn and soybeans, some wheat, and a negligible amount of cattle, maybe 75 head). Their hired labor were easily middle-class, it was not at all similar to the laborers hired at the larger livestock operations (of which swine producers seemed to be the worst). Additionally, while no significant fruit/vegetable crops were grown in my area, those remain another large user of migrant labor. Unless we as a society can accept higher food prices, I don't see this problem going away. And note that while my family's farm was small (1500 acres), the only way it has remained afloat is a cattle feedlot that is barely under the CAFO limit and a focus on alfalfa hay of sufficient quality to sell to large diaries, so not at all immune from these concerns.

That being said, while I am a carnivore I heartily agree that too much animal protein is raised in this country. I don't believe that veganism is a tenable solution (and suspect it isn't actually a long-term healthy diet), Americans in general consume too much animal protein as a percentage of diet. Transitioning to a more reasonable diet is, in my mind, the only viable outcome. That, and growing way less corn in this country, there is a lot of farmland that could be producing crops for direct human consumption instead of making ethanol, which is energy inefficient and wasteful considering we have a petroleum surplus.

Yep -- when I started researching corn for my own horticultural reasons, I was cold shocked to find out only ~10% goes to feed humans, with the balance going mainly to animal feed and ethanol :


Thanks for all the links. I sincerely was asking as a counterpoint, not to troll.

I did know about grain being used to feed cattle, but a lot of the grain they eat is not of "human quality" so saying that we can just switch humans from meat to grain and feed 800 million people is very misleading.

Do you have any sources on the percentage of grain that is not of human-quality? Are there any estimates of what percentage of the non-human quality grain can be filtered to become human-quality? We're not talking about fundamentally different plants, just the difference between seeds, stalks, & husks vs seeds alone. Even putting the exact number aside, we're talking about thousands and thousands of hectares of arable land used solely to feed livestock. Even if the number is only 80 million (back in 1997), it is still a large-enough number to beg the question: is this the best use of our resources?

I don't have a source / link handy at the moment, but a couple relevant notes to consider :

1) the vast (vast) majority of corn consumed by humans is processed into things like corn syrup, modified starch, whiskey, etc, rather than eaten "whole" as a grain [like, say, as tortilla chips or whatever], so the notion of broken kernels, etc, scarcely applies to this particular consideration -- see above-linked infographic

2) The question of what type of corn is grown is a really interesting one -- I could rattle on about this for a long time, but suffice to say that the family of varieties generally known as "Corn Belt Dent" [derived at some length from Nothstine and similar early dent corns] is designed to serve both feed / silage and processing-for-human-consumption [including ethanol] purposes. Now, this is not stuff you eat as "corn on the cob" [those are called sweet corns, though back in the day folks used to eat green Corn Belt Dent roasted as "Trucker Ears"], nor is it the same as popcorn [which is its own family, derived at length from flint corns]. There are in fact varieties designed specifically for silage [the common type of feed, where pretty much the entire plant is fermented and fed to animals; these varieties have less fibrous leaves and sometimes more leaves] and grain / processing / ethanol ['floury' types], but it's a matter of choice / market analysis from the farmer's perspective, and ye olde corn belt dent can serve both purposes if need be.

one quick link re : ethanol : https://articles.extension.org/pages/27536/corn-for-biofuel-...

I've been looking but I cant find anything yet.

> We're not talking about fundamentally different plants, just the difference between seeds, stalks, & husks vs seeds alone.

I think it's also how its stored and # of broken kernels (for corn anyways), etc.

Im not arguing against the point, was just trying to bring some perspective

Not the user above, but also vegan with similar views (except about large corporations, I love them). If you assume that farm labor must be exploited to harvest crops, and that animals are an inefficient way of spending the crops (calories in are greater than calories out), then you reduce the total amount of crops used to feed someone by taking the animal out of the equation. It's all about chasing the lesser evil.

"I have you; you are completely dished! Do you not know that in the Navy, you must always choose the lesser of two weevils!"

^ tried to resist, could not resist

Exploitation of labor, farm and otherwise, is of equal concern to me. There are several ways I go about minimizing my participation in agricultural labor exploitation, but most prominent are :

1) Buying only produce grown in the USA; 2) Buying from local farms whose labor practices are personally known to me, when practical

The reality of farm labor in the USA today is far removed from "Grapes of Wrath" type situations and even much different than it was 30 years ago, when most harvesting was conducted by itinerant laborers who were often not paid, housed, etc, very well. These days, farmers fiercely compete for labor by offering nice dwellings, pay that is often above local minimum wage, and sponsoring H2A visas [which are in limited supply and also not cheap]. Many orchardists, for example, also pay or offset travel costs for their workers.

All these factors are, as a matter of fact, the main drivers of the current trend toward automation in farming and in harvesting + grading specifically -- folks are finding it cheaper in the long run to invest in a $250k automated harvester than to continue to compete for human labor [and comply with the attendant regulations, enforcement of which is also much amplified in the past few decades]

For reference, check out any recent issue of "Good Fruit Grower" or "Fruit Growers News" e.g. https://www.goodfruit.com/searchresults/?q=labor

This is a common question, but cows and chickens eat lots of plants too.

"All the fertilizer, tractor fumes, transportation, ground tilling, you name it, that go into producing a pound of grain are literally multiplied by 4.5 to produce a pound of chicken breasts, or by 20 to produce a pound of ground beef."


Also a vegan and I'm very concerned about the human exploitation as well. Unfortunately, similar to "men's rights", this topic only seems to come up as an attempt at a rebuttal to veganism and very seldom mentioned in its own right. And remember that animal agriculture exploits humans as badly if not worse than the rest of the agriculture system.

How do you define exploitative? Your usage suggests an extremely broad scope ("nearly every aspect").

What is the limiting principle in your mind? What is the difference between living via exploitation (as you conceive it) and living in a non-exploitative way?

> Exploitation is easy. Restoration is work.

A large percentage of the world population is descended from cannibals. How much restoration are you hoping for?

I think vegans attempting to avoid exploitation are being counter productive and exchanging animal suffering for human suffering.

Many fruits and vegetables require planting / harvesting / maintenance by humans because no mechanized system has yet been created. The people working these jobs are usually the poorest people which can be found and often work in squalor.

60% of child laborers age 5-7 are "employed" in agriculture.

If you have a grain-heavy diet with well sourced meat (avoiding confinement-raised animals) you can be assured that the people who worked to produce your food made a decent living.

If you only eat from the produce aisle you have to ask yourself how well the people picking your food were treated and how good their lives were, the answers generally aren't very positive.

The biggest change to my diet when I went vegan was that I replaced meat with various other protein sources. These are typically going to be soy (tofu) or wheat (seitan) or some other type that is made of a widely available and automated food source. By eating this way, I am making my food production far more efficient. 75% of all of the grain grown in the US goes to feeding cows, pigs, chickens, etc.; the meat industry. This is because feeding animals to feed people is highly inefficient.

I don't know that I eat more fruit & vegetables than the average US citizen. I'm not particularly a fan of them, although we do include them in dishes that we make.

My first point is that being a vegan reduces agriculture by a great deal.

I'll also submit that it is highly likely that in comparison, due to the processing around meat, that it has similar if not more exploitation of people in its production, and not a small part of that is the sheer amount that the agricultural sector needs to grow in order to support it. They chop down the Amazon Forest to grow soy. Not to make tofu, but to feed cattle.

> ...due to the processing around meat, that it has similar if not more exploitation of people in its production...

Would you rather work in a field under the open sky with a fresh breeze while harvesting edible parts from plants all day, or work in a foul-smelling, ugly warehouse faced with nonstop scenes out of a horror movie while killing and dismembering cows all day?

As far as labor conditions go, I don't even see how you can compare the two.

soy has been demonized by the weightlifting/masculine community, but there's no estrogen in soy, just trace amounts of phytoestrogen.

meanwhile, these dudes drinking jugs of cow breast milk

Hormones are active in trace amounts. That is all it takes. Never ever eat soy, unless maybe you are menopausal.

Your mention of "dudes drinking jugs of cow breast milk" brings to mind a fond memory I have of my son bringing milk home. It was sold in gallon jugs with red caps. He was riding a unicycle. To stay balanced and not fall over, he bought two jugs. They were cold and the handles would dig into his hands, so the only comfortable way to hold them was against his chest with the red caps aimed forward. Passing traffic took notice. :-)

I think it's probably fair to change this:

> but I’m also sure their perspective is warped by the need to make profit out of them.

to something like this:

> but I'm also sure their perspective is based on their need to subsist on them.

I think your heart is in the right place, but characterizing family dairy farmers as "warped" and profiting is not going to end up connecting or being helpful.

At the end of the day, a cow to a dairy farmer is just a machine. Whatever airs people may put on when describing how they treat their animals, the reality is they would (and do) sell them off to the highest bidder once the the juice stops being worth the squeeze.

We don't do this to other animals we claim to care for: an old dog that loses his youthful energy is still given a spot in the home and, if the time comes, will be put down in a more-or-less humane way. An old cow that loses her ability to produce milk is sold to whoever can make use of what's left of her body and promptly forgotten. If economic demands are the reason for this practice, then we can confirm that the amount of profit one can derive from a cow is the primary driver of interactions with her.

Words like "warp" and "profit" are a symbol of a fundamentally different way of thinking about what a "reasonable" relationship with an animal should be. However, I don't think you can accurately describe what the relationship between a dairy farmer and a cow is without such language, as owning a dairy farm is a business and making a profit is of course a primary concern. We see companies large and small externalize costs in pursuit of profit. What's so sacred about the dairy farmer that we have to tiptoe around describing the nature of their business?

"Warped" falsely implies that their relationship with a nonsapient meat-machine that exists for the purpose of turning grass and agricultural waste into good-tasting food is in some way unreasonable.

What's so sacred about cows that we have to tiptoe around describing what they're for?

That's exactly what I said:

>Words like "warp" and "profit" are a symbol of a fundamentally different way of thinking about what a "reasonable" relationship with an animal should be.

It's not a "false" implication as there is no true and objective measure of "reasonable". I substituted "fundamentally different" because I think it's more accurate than "false" or "wrong".

Cows aren't "for" meat or dairy any more than Africans were "for" enslavement. It is a purpose bestowed upon them by an outside influence, for sure, but it is not an intrinsic property of the being him or herself.

Edit: to clairify, I wasn't criticizing your post so much as criticizing the original assertion and answering (one possible reason) why people would object to it.

> It's not a "false" implication as there is no true and objective measure of "reasonable".

That's a reasonable [heh] position (though obviously not one I agree with), but that just changes the original assertion from false (there's a objective measure and it contradicts this) to meaningless and misleading (there's no objective measure by away from which their perspective can be said to be warped).

> Cows aren't "for" meat or dairy any more than Africans were "for" enslavement.

Africans, like most humans, are[0] (physical substrates containing) people; they're for doing whatever it is the person in question wants. Cows aren't[0]; they don't have any inside influence to bestow purpose upon them.

0: In both cases qualified by "assuming there isn't a nigh-Cartesian coincidence or conspirancy to falsify evidence of sapience or lack thereof", which admittedly isn't a possibility I've put much effort into falsifying.

>Africans, like most humans, are[0] (physical substrates containing) people; they're for doing whatever it is the person in question wants. Cows aren't[0]; they don't have any inside influence to bestow purpose upon them.

Putting aside the difference between sapience and sentience, are babies people? Are the mentally disabled people? As evidenced by law, we provide personhood even to beings that lack the mental capacity to bestow purpose upon themselves.

Even when we venture outside the "homo sapiens" sphere, we have different sets of laws governing what actions are acceptable when done to animals and what actions are acceptable when done to livestock. These distinctions are based upon our relationships with these animals and are not properties of the animal him or herself. Even within animals of the same species, the way in which we intend to use the animals governs what laws apply to our treatment of them. For example, in Alaska, dogs chosen for sled-pulling are no longer protected by animal cruelty laws and are in some cases legally considered livestock. [1] Are these dogs actually different than the ones living in our homes? Can we reasonably assert that intrinsic properties of these beings are the driving force behind the laws governing their treatment?

[1] https://helpsleddogs.org/iditarod-dog-kennel-horrors-no-anim...

I removed profit shortly after posting, it is just an awful place to use that word.

I think shaped is better than the implications of warped, thanks for the thought. Warped is true to how I feel but shaped I agree is more generally correct.

> but characterizing family dairy farmers as "warped"

He characterized their perspective as warped:

but I’m also sure their perspective is warped

This is an entirely different thing.

I mean, I'm not super well versed in small-scale agriculture or anything, but a) Is there that big of a difference between subsist and profit in this case? It's not like the family is just consuming the milk/etc themselves, they're selling it (in the case described above) and b)is there even a such thing as subsist in our society today? Especially in America, capitalism makes it impossible to just subsist, as you always need to be earning more.

However, both of these are just as subjective as your suggested substitution, and I would like to express that I think Small-scale or Family Dairy Farmers are way better than any size factory farming.

As a vegan, you depend on large corporations and the modern industrial society to exist. So it's strange to say you hate large corporations. A vegan lifestyle isn't one that you could maintain without international trade and industrialized life. Without global trade, oil, lab research, pharma companies, etc, you couldn't survive as a vegan. So I don't understand why you hate large corporations.

> A vegan lifestyle isn't one that you could maintain without international trade and industrialized life

I don't know how that follows. I think it is perfectly conceivable that one could be vegan without this, just as many vegans have been for millennia.

I find it a lot more likely that those people were vegetarians, rather than vegans.

Or they were very limited in number and relied on their surrounding societies much more than people with a non-vegan diet.

I think that it is interesting to consider this in relation to the renegotiations of NAFTA where Canada's dairy supply management [1] was put in the spotlight.

For those that don't know some details about Canada dairy supply management [2]:

> The model, which matches domestic demand with domestic supply through a quota system, is particularly well-suited to a commodity like milk, where 40 percent is consumed locally. Supply management is designed to even out the peaks and valleys of producer income, and in this endeavour, it has been successful. It also allows farmers to plan for the longer term, which is particularly important when producing a commodity subject to the whims of the cow’s natural production.

Despite supply management going against free trade ideals most of the farmers I know do like it. It lets them keep the lights on and maintain family farms that have been running for generations, but on the other hand it costs consumers both in their pocketbooks and variety of choice.

[1] https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/canada-supply-management-ex...

[2] https://www.cigionline.org/sites/default/files/cigi_paper_30...

Everybody likes being part of the protected market. That's part of the problem- "Well if you're going to protect dairy, and you want my support, how about you protect my steel too?" (repeat, repeat, repeat)

I'm from Canada[1] and supply management protects more than just a market. It protects the landscape too.

Factory farms pollute the surface and groundwater.

The big corporate players will fight hard protect their right to dump their 'externalities' (read manure) in the cheapest way possible.

Sadly, because uncontaminated land and water is not accounted for in the 'market', they will likely succeed.

[1] AND I grew up in a dairy farming area.

You don't need supply management to do that. Not only that, supply management is a terrible way to do that.

This is a great comment, and really a key here.

If you have a nail (environmental problem) hit it with a hammer (environmental regulation or tort liability deregulation).

You can hit it with back end of a plastic screwdriver (regulate supply and demand), but you'll never do as good of a job (flush nail with no external damage) as you will using the right tools.

And, to stretch the metaphor, the handle of the screwdriver might shatter and and cause a bunch of new problems without ever hammering the nail.

What if you have assorted fastening implements that require different affixing tools, but they're all necessary because businesses seeking short-term profit have supplanted families who want the land to be healthy for their children?

> supplanted families who want the land to be healthy for their children?

That's a fairy-tale story that the farming industry has been pushing around for decades to portray the image of the old-school farmer working dawn to dusk to support the family.

Agriculture hasn't been like that since the dust bowl. And even then, they didn't really care about the "healthy for their children", the dust bowl happened largely due to farmers (mostly small and mid-size by then) overfarming their lands and using deep plowing to overcome top-soil degradation.

Agriculture is a high-risk, capital-intensive industry that benefits dramatically from economies of scale.

Drop the romantic, nostalgic fantasia that so many still carry around farming.

We look and learn from our neighbours to the South, and what outcomes we see down there generates strong public support to maintain the system we have.

Frankly, as a consumer, American dairy, beef, poultry and produce make me nervous.

> generates strong public support to maintain the system we have.

Oh, yeah, everyone loves a protectionist market, when they're part of it...

I'm not a farmer; as a consumer in a managed market, wouldn't your platitudes imply that I should desire a free market? As it is, the products I buy are reasonably priced, high quality, and safe.

Even consumers frequently love the idea of a protected ("managed" market is a misleading term for "we subsidize and protect certain incumbents"), particularly when it is a national market (for nationalistic reasons) or when it is associated with a romantic/emotional vision ("oh, the poor little honest canadian farmers, working dawn to dusk and being protected from the evil massive corporations").

This is particularly true when you're not price-sensitive (i.e. poor), which by being on Hacker News, you most likely aren't.

So you don't mind paying more for that emotional feeling that you're "protecting" those farmers, even if other people might be more sensitive to the cost.

A government protecting farmers isn't any different than it protecting monopolies, and is just as bad. The only difference is the emotional & nostalgic impact on people.

The difference, in this case, is objectively measurable: Canadian poultry, beef, dairy and produce are generally safer than American.

Also, I'm Canadian. I'm not making an American tech salary, not by any stretch of the imagination.

> The difference, in this case, is objectively measurable: Canadian poultry, beef, dairy and produce are generally safer than American.

I'd like to see sources for that, and even if that's true, it doesn't imply that the market subsidies are the cause of that.

> Also, I'm Canadian. I'm not making an American tech salary, not by any stretch of the imagination.

You don't have to be making a tech salary to be less sensitive about the price of beef.

I never quite understood this. I'm from eastern EU, I don't consider my country "poor", but people who are on the bottom of the economic ladder do not eat beef here ( cheap beef is ~4usd/lbs, chicken thighs are 1.5usd/lbs ). Maybe it's just my ignorance, but for me this sounds equally ridiculous to someone who expresses his concerns about how poor people could afford lobsters if the price goes any higher. Pure meat is expensive, and it's a luxury, not a necessity.

The prices of meats are roughly equal to the US and making 20k$/yr makes you rich here, money won't be a limiting factor when it comes to food. Avg. salary in Missisipi is 40k$/yr, and that's the lowest one.

Of course you can't eat out in the nicest places every day from that salary. This is what constitutes being poor in the US ( not being able to do that )? You can always cook at home, and it's very cheap, is the price of the food really a big weight for people in the US ( let's say the bottom 40% )?

Maybe being poor is just being poor compared to others in your area, and it's mostly a mental thing. I lived on 250usd/month and life was good. Went to the farmers market, cooked my own food, I felt spoiled by the food choices I could make. I can make amazing food from various intestines, the taste is amazing, cheap as hell, and it's the best quality protein you can get your hands on for example.

Eating _at least one serving_ of beef, pork or poultry in two out of three meals a day is considered normal in America.

There's good reason they have an obesity problem.

Canada does not subsidize dairy farmers; it regulates and manages their production. It's a subtle but important distinction.

It is a subsidy in practice: you're restricting competition to increase the profits of the farmers.

Call it whatever you want, but the government it guaranteeing the farmer's profits, and society is paying for it.

I'll call it what it is: a managed market. It's not a subsidy.

Words have meaning.

Canadian consumers as a group pay the same amount for milk as a group, regardless of how much or little milk they demand, by means of government regulation. Canadian dairy farmers as a group receive the same amount regardless of how much or little milk they produce and how much or little milk consumers demand.

That the subsidy to the farmers is coming as $.30 per liter of milk as opposed to a single check at the end of the month doesn’t make it any less of a subsidy.

Canadian consumers as a group buy a variant amount of dairy products without any Government requirement of a minimum purchase amount.

Canadian dairy farmers coordinate with one another with the assistance of the Canadian Government to avoid over-producing and under-producing, and to sell as a single bargaining unit to purchasers. At no point does the Canadian Government subsidize dairy farmers to produce products, nor does the Canadian Government rebate Canadian consumers for purchasing dairy products.

Moreover, the Canada Food Guide no longer includes dairy as an essential food group. Most Canadians live close to the border and could cross-border shop.

There is no subsidy.

> Canadian dairy farmers coordinate with one another with the assistance of the Canadian Government to avoid over-producing and under-producing

Translating: the Canadian government protects collusion between the Canadian farmers to reduce competition and extract undue economic profits from society.

Yep, it is a subsidy.

Along with the proximity to the American border and the duty-free purchasing allowed, CETA opened up broader quotas on importing dairy products from Europe without tariffs, _and buyers are not availing themselves of the full extent of it_. There is no extraction of undue economic profits because consumers can, and yet do not, access other markets without tariff.

There is no monetary or financial assistance provided, none whatsoever.

> opened up broader quotas

I love how you try to justify that this isn't a subsidy by using the word "quotas"!

I never eat any animal products when travelling in the US.

They are of much lower quality, and full of hormones and additives.

Can we import whatever model France has?

I’m fed up with croissants made without butter and “cheese” that tastes like rubber at high prices.

If it requires subsidizing farmers through higher income taxes, so be it.

That makes a lot more sense than a government policy of high food prices.

What next, a tax on child care? A vaccine tax? Military enrolment fee?

That's not an artifact of supply management so much as it is health regulations. The Government is worried that unpasteurized dairy will kill us, so we miss out on a fair amount of cheeses.

It’s not just the unpasteurized dairy I’m missing.

The prices on the cheese that we import is dramatically higher than expected for an imported good.

Imported cheese tariffs are an international trade issue.

CETA was intended to help with this, but grocers et al aren't choosing to import European cheeses. :(


The tariffs exist to protect the supply management system.

No tariffs = disappearance of supply management overnight.

CETA only slightly increased the amount of cheese that can be imported duty/tariff free.

It’s by no means a free-for-all with EU cheese. I wish it were.

Purchasers are not purchasing European product _despite not having reached regulated limits_.

Regulation was relaxed, and the purchasers are not availing themselves of the opportunity to purchase European goods.

It doesn't matter that it's not a free for all, because the limits have not been hit.

If you meant the EPA, it looks like it isn't doing too great job of protecting the land either if peoples taps are running with manure like the article shows.

How do you propose we protect the landscape, water, ecology?

Do you have any realworld examples for us to study and learn from?

> How do you propose we protect the landscape, water, ecology?

Through environmental regulation, protected areas, permitting, environmental reviews, etc. This is the common model in most of the world. It works well in some places and not well in others, just as laws sometimes work, and sometimes don't.

Passing subsidies to farmers might (strong emphasis on might) have some unintended benefits to the environment (or not), but it is a terrible way to try to protect the environment, particularly because most (if not all) of the investment in this goes to the profit margins of the farmers.

And sure, there are plenty of real world examples: look at environmental review and permitting processes for your city or state. I happen to be very close to a number of environmental engineers who handle such permits on a daily basis, both on the granting as well as on the requesting side.

Want to build a road on your farm, or increase your farming area? You'll likely have to submit a permit to Fish & Wildlife, as well as to the county water authority, to the Army Corps of Engineers, etc. Depending on the type of work, you might need to hire an engineering firm to do hydrological analysis and understand how the work impacts water drainage and flow, how it impacts flow downstream to other properties, and often enough to sensitive environments miles away.

One example was a friend of mine doing work for a homeowner in an unincorporated area who wanted to build a culvert under their driveway to increase drainage and reduce the risk of flood on his property.

Well, while building the culvert would increase the flow and decrease the risk of flood in his property, it would also mean that the flow downstream would increase significantly, resulting in higher flood risk to other properties downstream. Open, rugged soil acts as a sponge and as "potential energy dissipators", slowing the flow of water during heavy rains. Paving means that all the water flows downstream quickly, flooding lower areas.

Also, the culvert would channelize a lot of the water flow, meaning that the toxic substances from the driveaway and the home's roof would not be spread out in a harmless way (the solution to pollution is dilution) that can be handled by the ecosystem, bubt would flow quickly to streams and pools in the lower areas, increasing the concentration of such substances to unacceptable levels and damaging the critical environment for an at-risk endemic species of frogs.

While the homeowner dismissed my friend's concerns and decided to request the permit anyway, it is highly likely that the permit will be rejected because of the points above (actually, I know the person handling the permit on the government's side, it will be rejected for sure).

The family dairy farms and conservationists in Wisconsin have all those tools and have been actively trying to use them.

Why do they continue to lose?

Probably efficiencies of scale.

And those tools aren't there to protect small, inefficient businesses, their existence doesn't make small, inefficient businesses more successful.

Quite the opposite: regulation disproportionately impacts small businesses in a negative way.

So you could even argue that they are "losing" because of those tools.

Landscape protection is very important, but I agree with comment below. Supply Chain Management(SCM) is being promoted via such claims. While it may be willing to do landscape protection now, there's no guarantee that it will continue to do so in future. Corporations are known to eventually focus on profits.

"American government contributed around $22.2 billion in direct and indirect subsidies to the dairy sector in 2015."

That's over double the amount that New Zealand's dairy sector (grass fed, not housed in sheds) makes from exports each year. Not only is the industrial US system inefficient and subsidised, but the milk quality is poor as well. And let's not avoid the question of burping cows and Methane emissions.


It's a managed market. If consumer trends in Canada shifted away from dairy it would not somehow survive.

Instead, dairy farmers collaborate to avoid production waste and to coordinate for seasonal/cyclical changes in demand and production.

It’s hard to imagine higher prices without milk users getting creative.

Lots of products that should be made with butter are made with oil.

Alfredo sauces made with soybean oil instead of cream.

The products that have these substitutions will have a greater discount and more sales.

Frozen pizza makers slacking on cheese toppings.

Processed cheese.

And that’s just the industrial use side.

Interesting that your list is entirely processed foods.

Probably best never to buy such products at all, and if you do, you probably aren't the sort that cares whether the fat is from butter or from canola.

But the products exist because people buy them as cheaper substitutes, reducing dairy demand.

Milk drinkers will just drink less when the price is higher (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes involuntarily).

Or do they buy them because they're convenient?

Or do they buy them because they're cheaper than restaurant or take-out alternatives?

Or do they buy them because the packaging is appealing?

Regardless, processed food is generally shit, everywhere. Discerning health and quality conscious consumers in any nation aren't likely to favour purchasing processed food.

Don't mention steel in relation to US-Canada trade. Canada is extremely unhappy to see China's steel constantly exempted while Canadian steel is subject tariff.

As other posters have pointed out, Canada's protected dairy market is about far more than keeping farms going. It is about regulating a stable food supply and associated external impacts.

> Canada's protected dairy market is about far more than keeping farms going. It is about regulating a stable food supply and associated external impacts.

Canadians do consume a fair amount of dairy in global terms, but honestly it's not a big part of most people's diets by calories. If dairy got more expensive for a few months, or a decade, or forever, people would just buy less of it. If it got less expensive, those inclined might buy more of it sometimes.

There is no moral or practical benefit to to Canadian society at large in "stabilizing" the dairy supply, if the current regime could even be considered that.

There's also that the Canadian Food Guide just dropped dairy as an essential food group.


The question I can't seem to find a consistent answer to is whether closing/limiting a market from imports/exports has the same net effect of supply management.

Supply management is for smoothing out volatility, but one major source of that volatility is exogenous demand from futures and far away competition.

Dairy economics worked fine when they were bound by geography. What broke the economics is industrial scale operations optimized for exporting from the region. The policy solution for that to keep farmers alive and dairy available would be to impose borders on the markets.

European (French) dairy subsidies are a variation on supply management, where instead of centralizing production, they close their borders to imports and redistribute general revenue as a way to maintain culture.

The consequence of supply management is that you can't just start a dairy farm in Canada with a few cows and some land. While that may seem trivial, distortions like this mean small towns are not economically viable because there is little local production that produces economic activity.

It makes dairy management a fundamental cultural problem. I would be interested in a sound comparison of the tradeoffs between supply management vs. borders/tarrifs to solve the same problem.

We also once had a managed market for wheat sales, but the last Tory government ended that. I went and bought rail stocks in anticipation for the inevitable outcome where individual farmers would pay more for access.

Rail has done well. Wheat farmers less so.

> We also once had a managed market for wheat sales

You're probably thinking of tobacco, which lost its supply managed status in 2009 under the Tory government you speak. Wheat was never supply managed in Canada, only diary, poultry, and formerly tobacco.

Wheat and barley operated under the single desk principle. The mandatory pool operated by the CWB, which the Tories also shut down, only applied to western provinces. Ontario had/has its own wheat board, now known as Grain Farmers of Ontario. Ontario farmers voted to eliminate the mandatory pool in the late 90s and was completely phased out by 2003, although an optional pool remains.

It wasn't supply managed in the way that dairy was, but the CWB negotiated for rail access on behalf of independent farmers.

And yes, I'm aware of Ontario's actions. My rail stocks continue to do well. Choo choo!

Then there’s the sugar beer marketing board that used to exist.

Then Canada just bought them out. Sugar beet farmers grew something else, and US companies built their candy factories in Canada to avoid the US tariffs on sugar.

And possibly our coke has real sugar, I can’t figure out for sure.

> I went and bought rail stocks in anticipation for the inevitable outcome where individual farmers would pay more for access.

Tangent - I don't know any other country in the world where the public is actively picking stocks like this. Given that, it's probably bad for the majority of people, I wonder if, at some point of US history, it was pushed upon people by some PR campaign (for example, by the finance companies who profit from it).

Buying rail is a bit of a tradition in Canada, given how immensely important the rail lines are to our country. They're traditionally somewhat of a safe bet, with reasonable dividends.

And the consumer who desires fine French cheeses or the single mother who wants to give her children milk are less important because? If milk was cheaper there would be more demand for it. Of course the farmers like it.

> the single mother who wants to give her children milk are less important

The Canadians thought of that too! They give parents a refundable tax credit of $5481-6496/year per kid under 18, and that's just at the federal level.


Plus, basic groceries (like milk, bread, vegetables) and feminine hygiene products have 0% sales tax:


Yes, but those tax credits could be stretched further if milk was cheaper.

The smart thing would be to pocket the credit and avoid expensive milk as much as possible.

Win, win!

And yet Canadians cannot even sustain their population without a massive immigration safety net.

Clearly it's not as smart, exceptional, or functional from a family perspective.

I think we could do a better job opening markets to products that we don't have here, like cheeses from around the world.

I do hate when people use others as pawns in their arguments though. Are you a single mother unable to afford milk? Inevitably when it comes to talking about economics, the poor/single mothers/etc are always trotted out on stage as reason we need to cut taxes/change the way we do business.

The poster is allowed to empathize with another party.

However, I took would like to open the market to cheese. Let the consumer tolerate if they want to buy 'bad' cheese or, as advertised by the proponents, the 'better' Canadian cheese. Let the consumer choose.

In my experience, when it comes to market ideology and taxes, people don't argue from empathy, they argue from the pocketbook.

In this case, they're arguing from _someone else's_ pocketbook. And it's not the dairy farmers pocketbook or average citizens exposed to global markets pocketbook.

It's tremendously sad. Large-scale high-intensity farming is raping the land, causing untold pollution both locally and globally, and small sustainable homesteads are falling by the wayside, while these large agro-factories receive billions in subsidies to produce "food" at a loss.

It's disgusting.

It's also using less farm land and keeping people fed.

It's not obvious that small homesteads would be a viable way to feed the world, much less a sustainable way to do it.

I'm not claiming that industrial scale farming doesn't have environmental issues. But growing more food on less land might be a good thing.

Whether you have one hundred hectares or a million hectares, your animal density should be the same.

This isn't a case of more food on less land. The problem is that those with "more" are receiving substantial subsidies to sustain a business that would otherwise lose money. They are then able to invest that money into buying more land to get more animals and larger subsidies, resulting in overproduction and reduced margins, forcing the smaller farms out of the market.

Even if you don't drink milk, if you pay your taxes, you are paying for it.

Like I said, it's disgusting.

YES. THIS. I always wonder why this argument is not more popular.

The animal welfare argument IS valid but is not going to land with a lot of people. Pointing out these industries are getting a free ride, however...

It's the subsidies that tick me off.

We should be a civilization of mostly plant-eaters with the occasional dairy and meat meal.

Instead, we are a civilization of carnivores because we subsidize the meat industrial complex so heavily. We should internalize the cost of pollution these industries create, not give them free money to continue destroying the planet.

> But growing more food on less land might be a good thing.

Not if it costs us our humanity. The mistreatment of animals we eat/farm is astonishing.

Maximizing efficiency isn't always the best metric to try and optimize for, it leads to some really warped places.

(Interesting side note, Tolkien wrote about this a bunch -- Sauron was originally a forge/craftsman god who just really wanted to make things more efficient. His downfall was that he overly liked coordination and disliked wasteful friction.)

So productivity....leads to evil.

I'm going to let my boss know about this right now. And I'm turning off SLACK!

Turn off slack to be less productive?? Surely you mean turning it on.

Sure, when you drive it to the maximum. Efficiency at all costs absolutely leads to outcomes that are pretty universally considered evil.

> Not if it costs us our humanity. The mistreatment of animals we eat/farm is astonishing.

"Humanity" not a universally accepted constant. Being "Humane" means largely arbitrary things depending on culture. I'm not sure I accept that your apparent definition of humanity meaningfully exists on a global scale so I'm far from worried about losing it.

Yeah, so let's race to the bottom and make sure we treat each other, animals and nature as bad as we can because it's all just relative...

How about we defend American norms on American soil?

Good call. Ethics and morality are pursuits for chumps.

rolls eyes

Yeah... larger operations are more efficient. It’s one thing I try to remind people who think humane meat could be a thing. Our planet is already getting destroyed by CAFOs imagine feeding people cows who each had an acre to themselves?

(My solution is just stop eating animals, better for them, us, and our dying planet)

> larger operations are more efficient

The amount of animal feed grown per acre of land should stay pretty much constant. Also the amount of feed a single cow eats, is constant. So in this kind of energetic respect, small and large operations can be equally efficient.

But larger operations can mechanize and automatize more work, and thus need less human labor, and can save on salaries. In this kind of monetary respect, they are more efficient.

This article about milk production. If you stop eating meat and still drink milk it wouldn't stop.

If you keep making more and more food, the population keeps growing, and more and more land needs to be turned into farmland. Increases in efficiency only produce more food. This is not fixed by diverting farmland from animal protein to grains.

> If you keep making more and more food, the population keeps growing,

[citation needed]

This isn't the historical trend.

Have we reached an inflection point in population growth? Last I heard we doubled the population in less than 50 years.

It's not using less land than a small homestead, it's using less labor. A small homestead farming with smaller tools can get far more yield per acre than a huge mono-crop farm does.

And less energy.

according to studies, smaller farms use less energy per head.

I do not have strong feelings about milk, other than not wanting to drink it and using it only sparingly as an ingredient. However the mention of this protest by dairy farmers was striking to me:

One of the bad times I can remember was in the mid-to-late 90s - I was in elementary school - when milk prices were so low that some farmers were dumping their milk down the drain in protest.

At some point in the past I read about EU farmers doing the same thing, spraying large volumes of milk in protest. This seems pretty ineffective to me as a means of swaying public opinion. If I were someone who actually buys milk, I think my feelings towards the industry doing this would not be to wish them well.

And usually the cause of those situations was a high fixed price, which killed demand.

Meanwhile, the people paying the high prices wonder WTF is going on.

Well, in EU the farmers get subsidies. I believe the thinking is that food is too important to let it be optimized by the markets.

On the negative externalities point, can someone please explain how there are no negative externalities when you have 100 farms with 100 cows each vs 10 farms with 1000? The amount of waste generated is the same, presumably, and it all has to go somewhere, but perhaps it's just spread out more so that negative externalities aren't as apparent or is there a real difference as the article only brings them up as a consequence of large operations.

Here's a fictitious but plausible example:

Small operators impose a larger set of small burdens in time into things like waste stream, and transport. Large operators syphon their waste into the stream in one go, rather than diluting the 1000 cattle across a month, it presents as a wave of high nutrient content for processing. It overwhelms the tertiary waste treatment plant, requiring re-scaling of holding tanks, more oxygenation, more dilution into the river systems.

Unless regulated, a single entity functioning as a "more efficient" process is very likely to impose scale breaking consequence on things. This would be true to road transport (for cows, for milk) for energy (cold storage, pumping) and it is very likely at a lower overall labour cost, so significantly higher apparent efficiency and profit to the farm holding corporate entity, but at community cost in terms of infrastructure/utility burden.

Even thermal: a single aggregated cow barn for 1000 animals will radiate more heat have have a more aggressive effect on the microclimate than 10 100 cow sheds over a larger area...

Thank you for sharing, it touches on a lot of topics that most programmers dont hear about. It's the kind of article that doesn't gain much traction around here. I enjoyed it.

When I graduated from Michigan State I went to work as an organizer for the National Farmers Organization. The NFO was controversial, they worked to organize farmers and led a nationwide dairy strike in 1967 where LBJ threatened its leaders with imprisonment. I was a young optimist but the bottom line is that basic human nature makes it impossible to make it work. But I helped start a couple of Coop elevators and learned a lot about business.

Farmers are faced with two choices:

1. Get big and be a commodity farmer ruthlessly focused on efficiency

2. Or a niche marketer preferably selling direct to the consumer.

I've seen guys successful with either method but it's absolute suicide to be a small commodity farmer.

In Australia, a small number of farm cooperatives succeed but most died on the vine. We lost our canning plants to overseas. We lost our cooperatives to industry self regulated open markets. The supply chain (coles, woolworths) pushed costs back on the supply side and bid farm against farm.

I think the death of the cooperative movement in farming was a long-con by the industry. Somebody should have pushed back because Unity (the northern NSW farming coop for dairy produce) is alive and well, when other farming coops died and the farmers are now bereft of power in the supply chain.

(Apparently) unpopular opinion: literally everything in this article is good for everyone except the farmers themselves. More production from fewer cows is good for the environment, particularly the carbon intensity of milk production. Lower prices are good for consumers. Even the author benefited by not being roped into working on the family farm, instead using his skills more productively in the software business.

> More production from fewer cows is good for the environment

You obviously did not read the article.

The problem with factory farming this way is manure disposal.

The article describes the environmental impact of this kind of farming in painstaking detail.

In summary, dense factory farms disposing of high volumes of manure pollutes groundwater and spreads disease.

I did read the article. I just believe that it's better to sacrifice the local environment than the global one. If I could double the carbon intensiveness of milk production to completely eliminate its effects on the local environment, I would not.

That makes no sense. "Local" impact is global when it happens at scale.

(Same respondent, different account.)

I don't understand what you're trying to communicate with this objection. There is not sufficient demand for milk, at any price, that a typical person will live in the local environment of a dairy farm. Thus, the local environmental effects of dairy farms will never be global, even if they scale to the natural demand ceiling.

There are strategic considerations in terms of food production, which are real, and also softer, cultural concerns such as the centralization of controls, loss of local autonomy and other things.

They're all externalized in the calculations and first-order thinking, which is why the farmers are essentially under thread.

I live in a supply-managed area (Quebec) and Milk is a lot more expensive. Maybe a little too expensive.

That said - I don't mind one bit paying 'a little bit more' to have locally sourced products.

I suggest most people would feel the same way!

Ergo, paradoxically, the 'market is inefficient' here! If consumers were able to make reliable choices with respect to the locality of their milk and produce, I would bet they'd make rational choices according to their own motivations to 'pay a little more'.

It's just the way information is transmitted ... it's too onerous on consumers to have to make complex decisions with respect to every purchase!

'Free Trade' proponents actually try to stop things such as labelling like 'made in Michigan' or 'made in Quebec' because this runs counter to their economic arguments (and interests!) ... but hey, if consumers value something for whatever reason, more than others, that's their choice!

I'll bet that a coherent, well communicated effort to label foods in a manner that enables consumers to make quick and easy decisions on this stuff may actually work.

Environmental issues related to 'mass farming' aside - I wish governments or organized bodies would do this.

Hint: we already do this in terms of categories. People chose to eat vegan/vegetarian for whatever reasons based on their own criteria, but it's fairly easy for them to do that: just don't buy the meat. So imagine if they could make such informed decisions as well with their Milk.

Even without this, if I had to chose between 'supply management' and 'cheaper prices' I think I would chose the supply management system, at least for foods.

I'm not sure the Canadian version is perfectly well suited, but the reality of globalism just has too many indirect consequences not on the balance sheet.

(Same respondent, different account.)

> There are strategic considerations in terms of food production, which are real,

I don't understand what strategic considerations there could be related to family farms. Farms in general, perhaps.

> and also softer, cultural concerns such as the centralization of controls, loss of local autonomy and other things.

I acknowledge those concerns exist. I think little of them.

> That said - I don't mind one bit paying 'a little bit more' to have locally sourced products.

I'm glad that you feel that way, since you do not have a choice. It would be sad if you did mind, because you would not have the option to make a different choice. I feel the opposite to you. I buy the inexpensive eggs and the inexpensive milk, since there is no discernible difference in taste, and the cheaper stuff costs less than half as much at my grocery store. I don't like to pay twice as much for a product that is no higher in quality.

'Food security' is a national strategic concern. The US stockpiles oil for certain reasons, most nations also have concern about their ability to weather a war, famine, or some kind of international shock. As one example.

> 'Food security' is a national strategic concern.

As I mentioned in the post you replied to, that has nothing to do with family farms. It has to do with farms in general.

Subsidies are not for small farms, they are for all dairy farms, and the impetus to provide subsidies to farms is generally rooted at least in part due to 'food security' concerns.

The government already sets the price of milk, and has done so since FDR (1930s).


Such nationalized policies unfortunately are prone to capture by big players, so cronyism gets rewarded disproportionally over other concerns.

I can see the point in government getting involved to make sure that the food supply is up to standard and that there is enough extra capacity in the system to ride through the inevitable bad times (like the dust bowl).

However, given the dairy industry has been mostly shaped by government programs and regulations since the 1930's, it seem unlikely that salvation for small dairymen is going to come from that direction.

Just another example when unintended side effects of government regulation create a larger problem than the one it was supposed to solve.

I think the problem is not the regulation. The problem is the decline in bargaining power from the farm side, into aggressively un-regulated market concentration. The farmer cooperative buying produce to on-sell was replaced by direct sale to the supermarket and logistics costs pushed back on the farmer. All in search of a 1c a litre difference.

Please don't blame regulation for what is unequal market forces.

The government mandates that the farmers sell through these middlement, at prices that are set by the government (and gamed by the middlemen). This is a government caused problem.

You're right that the government should instead be focused on boosting competition and supressing cronyism, but its been, what, 85 years and they're still pushing the same thing?

A different outlook, for anyone willing to watch hundreds of hours of youtube videos on regenerative agriculture, a rising tide of decentralized farmers are going back to chemical-free and healthy, thriving produce, far beyond the organic label that corporations have usurped and rendered valueless. Look for living web farms and advancing eco agriculture on youtube and get ready for a world of information outside of software.

1. Living Web Farms

2. Advancing Eco Agriculture

Why on earth would anyone want a chemical free farm? That just decreases yield and increases risk, contributing to increased price.

It turns out that unless you are an uber-agri-corp, you're better off serving the niche local and regional markets. Yes you may have smaller yield, but why on Earth should you be incentivized by yield and not profit? Profit is the purpose, yield is the means to acheive that for big companies, small companies can focus on quality, flavor, nutrition, health in order to profit. Leave yield to the supply chain managers, let the farmers grow actual food I feel good about eating. No more bright red flavorless strawberries.

Nope. Increasing yield leads to glut leading to low price. For the farmers.

Plus there is always the downside of chemical pollution of air, soil and environment.

Farmers are at the very bottom of the supply chain. We don’t see any appreciation in income even if food prices go up.

If you dig into those youtube channels, you'll find just how damaging the chemical fertilizers have been for our soil biome, how damaging tilling is to the microbiology, how herbicides leave farm soil bare and creating soil compaction and flooding when the inevitable rain is unable to infiltrate the soil fast enough.

Commodification is about taking products of different quality and marketing them as though they're actually the same. It creates an incentive to make products of the lowest quality possible because lower quality means lower production costs and more profit.

Then over time, consumers get used to increasingly low quality products and so it becomes a race to the bottom for producers; who can make the lowest quality product which only just meets the minimum required grade.

I just did a search for "commodity quality standards" on Google and came across a document which explains how corn is graded in the US; the criteria that they use includes things like "Heat damaged %" and "Broken corn and foreign material %". The criteria for other commodities like grains were also similar (focused on damage and presence of foreign material) - It doesn't appear that the chemical/nutritional composition of the commodities are taken into account when grading them. It's easy to see why this would drive the wrong incentives when it comes to things like choice of fertilizer (natural vs artificial) and using GMOs.

Commodification is even more than that. It involves turning things, activities, ideas, etc. which were not evenly formerly traded into commodifiable entities. So it also includes intellectual property, the abundance of services we now formally pay for which used to be free or done informally, etc.

NZ dairy farms seem to be doing o.k.

I wonder how they compare (size/costs/distance to market) with US farms.

I do know that NZ signed the CPTPP, which made markets for milk more open.


Large NZ dairy farms are doing ok (I know of one farm with 5000 cows. They do once-a-day milking, they start at 7am and milk until 3pm in 3 separate milking sheds). There are no CAFOs in NZ. All farms put all of their cows out in the fields.

But even without the CAFOs that this article is complaining about, smaller "family run" farms are dying out. Dairy farms are getting larger and larger, it's getting un-economical for the smaller farms to keep going and they are being bought out.

From 2002 to 2016, the number of dairy farms in NZ decreased 23.5% Yet the amount of land used increased by 22.6%.

The average herd size in 2016 was 414 cows.

It's just economies of scale. Bigger farms are more economical.

NZ also abolished subsidies and the largest dairy is Fonterra that is a co-op.

But why is that a bad thing?

> I think the intent was to provide evidence of grassroots farmer support for Canadian-style controls on milk price and supply, which reduce volatility and the need for subsidies and have managed to maintain Canada’s family farms’ existence, which would give the American federal government ammo to institute similar policies.

That's a very interesting take on these policies. Here in Canada, we pay an obscene amount of money for dairy, from considerably smaller disposable incomes.

The understanding I've come to is that while the policies make it easier for some subset of mediocre dairies to operate, they make it much harder for productive dairies to expand business. The dairy propaganda here is quite laughable as well: the usual refrain is that dairy prices are "inelastic" (which is nonsense, people frequently choose not to consume dairy in Canada, whether because of cost or health concerns).

A lot of American cultural institutions are being lost in our effort to modernize and optimize production. This affects a lot of industries, not just dairy. Sadly, like the author, I can't really think of a good solution.

The only proposal that comes to mind: If America values its cultural institutions (I'm thinking specifically farmers, craftsmen, certain maritime industries, and machinists, although there are certainly more) and wants to preserve them, government entities need to provide some of the funding. This is obviously distasteful to some and I'm not sure if the positives outweigh the negatives. I'm also not sure what the extent of preservation societies are in America today.

I don't mean to jump into every thread, but I want to stress - This is NOT about modernisation or optimisation. It's about large corporations getting paid money by the government to support an unprofitable business, and then growing that business from those subsidies to lose even more money and thus receive even greater subsidies. Those not "playing the game" lose their business - it's that simple. You can either call that good business, or abusing the system, depending on which side of the fence you live.

I feel that we didn't read the same article.

This article is absolutely about modernisation and optimization. The dairy business has been guided, partially by government policy, to maximize milk production while minimizing human labor. This drove the price of milk down, and led to a 'go big or go home' drive for dairy farmers. Smaller operations can't compete with this and they're closing.

> It's about large corporations getting paid money by the government to support an unprofitable business

While I don't doubt that this happens, It was not a theme of the article.

> Those not "playing the game" lose their business - it's that simple.

No, business was lost because the small farms are being outcompeted by large farms. This was a consequence of the market, not government subsidies. I think it would be fair to say that government policy shaped the market, but that's not the same thing as a subsidy.

Its most definitely NOT about modernization and optimization. Its literally exactly as I describe it.

Here is how it works:

If you have a small number of cows, you receive a small subsidy. If you have more cows you have greater subsidy. Therefore you increase number of cows to give yourself larger subsidy to support yourself through declining profit margins.

You can only increase animal density so far. After that you need more land, i.e. you need to expand. If you expand (i.e. buy up all the smaller farms - please go back and reread the article), then you have more cows, and therefore get greater subsidies.

You invest that "profit" into buying more farms (that are desperate to sell as their profits are too small for them to survive, but capped as they cant increase their density/estate), get greater subsidies, etc.

That is not "out-competing" smaller farms. UNPROFITABLE large farms are literally being paid by the government to put the smaller farms out of business.

This is exactly what the article is about, although the author does a poor job of explaining this - in fact, he doesn't even mention the subsidies, but I assure you that this is the case.

Like I said - it's disgusting.

That's a good point - but I don't see how there's any 'economy of scale' to the racket.

An individual cow has a certain cost, produces a certain amount of milk, and as you say, yields a certain subsidy.

The unit costs of that scale up and down fairly linearly - i.e. it doesn't explain why it's better or worse for smaller or bigger farmers.

Now - if there was some sort of 'economy of scale' in this kind of farming, i.e. if you can reduce the overhead of each cow by scaling up, well, then it's possible that the profitability threshold is somewhere near a large amount of cows, in which case, smaller producers go out of business.

That said, in the later case ... well it is all about efficiencies and optimization - not subsidies.

In short - unless the 'big farms' get some kind of special subsidy due to their size, then this actually is about optimization, not about subsidies.

If the subsidies are 'per cow' then it doesn't seem that smaller farms are worse for wear than bigger farms.

Instead of subsidies, imagine if there were simply higher demand for milk, and the gov. stopped the subsidies. Imagine that the revenue per cow increased to the exact amount of subsidy. Well, in this case, the economics would be net neutral, totally the same situation, financially. Well, the smaller farmers are going out of business in this situation, and not the bigger ones. Ergo - this is about scale and optimization - not about subsidies.

Although the profits are the same, it is to do with volume.

For example, both you and I sell "widget X". The profit on each item for us both is $10. If I sell 10, I make $100. If you sell 1,000,000, you make $10,000,000. We are both have the same profit margin (i use this word lightly, as its only because of the subsidy that there is any profit), but I cant live off my small share. You, however, can afford to invest to expand your business - in a market which is NOT PROFITABLE (this is the point I keep trying to drive home, but you and GP just don't seem to get this point).

These large companies are growing their businesses in an unprofitable market, driving down the margins where it has become unsustainable for small players to exist. It's not a fair playing field as, due to the way the dairy industry works, all milk is equal. They aren't making better milk, or cheaper milk, they are making MORE milk - these large farms were specifically established for and driven by the ability to earn guaranteed "profits" in a UNPROFITABLE MARKET. You can call that optimisation if you like, but its still about the subsidies!

So thats the economy of scale, and it's been driven by subsidies. The larger you are, the more money you make.

Id like to also point out that these larger farms are able to secure funding to further drive their growth, based on them being so "profitable".

If the government stopped the subsidies, you are correct - that is exactly what would happen - and it would happen faster. The problem is that this entire situation has been caused directly BY the subsidies. Ergo, it's about the subsidies.

Of course, now these large farms exist they are able to reduce costs (primarily on feed) so there is certainly economy of scale in that regard - but they shouldn't exist in the first place - they were created out of subsidies, are supported by subsidies (they are still unprofitable!!!), and have made the market untenable for smaller farms.

Normal Behaviour: Widget X loses $10 per sale. Large company sells 1,000,000 widgets = -$10,000,000 Small company sells 1,000 widgets = -$10,000 Small company is more 'profitable' than large company.

Subsidised Behaviour: Government subsidies widget X sales by $12 a unit. Brings profit margin to $2 per sale Large company sells 1,000,000 widgets = $2,000,000 Small company sells 1,000 widgets = $2,000

Nothing has changed other than the government creating an artificial profit margin. The large company can use these assets to expand, and create more widgets for sale. The price of widgets goes down.

Im not an economist, so I cant explain this using some fancy formula, but all the literature is available for you to read if you are so inclined.

Supermatt, thanks for the response, but I think you have the microeconomics upside down.

The subsidies are not putting small farmers out of business, the 'situation' is not being driven by subsidies, it's just a regular problem of economies of scale.

In fact, as I will demonstrate, the smaller farmers may actually benefit more from the subsidies than the bigger farmers.

First, consider that the subsidy is de-facto substitute for 'higher demand' (or you can think of it that way). The subsidy has (almost) the exact same economic effect as shifting the demand curve (better described as shifting the supply curve, but that's not as intuitive). So, imagine a situation where consumers decided they wanted more milk - and the government decided to end the subsidy. Well, we'd be in the exact same economic situation. Another way to think of it is that the government is subsidizing each consumers purchase of milk during an era of weak demand.

In this scenario, as long as the subsidy is uniform, it doesn't necessarily help bigger farmers more than smaller farmers, it helps them about the same.

Now - as you indicate there are 'economies of scale' at play here, right? Bigger farms are going to be able to save a little bit here and there from scale, that's normal.

What this means, is that the 'unit profitability' for the big farms, is going to be better than that of the small farm. This means the smaller farm is more sensitive to a dip in prices, which in turn means the subsidies are likely going to have a more positive impact on smaller farms, than bigger farms.

The 'big farms' with more operating capital, and better margins, can withstand a longer dip in prices. The small farms cannot.

In this scenario - what the 'big farms' actually want (ie ideal for their business) is a prolonged period of weak demand that puts the smaller players under considerable pressure - so the 'big farms' can go in and buy the smaller ones on the cheap. Of course, the big farms would then like prices to rise.

So let's look at the example:

Big farm cost of production per litre = $1/L

Little farm cost of production per litre = $1.20/L (i.e. not as good).

Wholesale price of Milk $0.90/L - i.e. below the cost of production (i.e. everyone should be out of business)!

Government subsidy per litre = $.40/L

This means that net wholesale price + government subsidy is $1.30/L.

The 'big farms' have a profit margin of 30 cents/L

The 'little farms' have a profit margin of 10 cents/L

So - you can see that the 'little farmer' has a lot less 'safety net' that the big farm. It might even be close to the threshold of profitability.

The 'ideal' situation for the big farms would be for the price of Milk to dip below 80 cents - because with the subsidy that means their (smaller) competitors go out of business! At 80 cents a L, the 'family farms' are up against a wall, and have to sell to the big farms who can maintain their profitability.

So let's see what happens if the subsidies are wiped out. Basically the 'weakest' will die off. The small farms will be 100% out of business. Then the bigger farms will start to die off until production is small enough to yield a higher price, high enough to remain profitable. And yes, there is likely enough demand for local milk in America to sustain some farms. But it will be the 'biggest' that survive, because they have the economies of scale.

In summary: in a situation wherein an industry has some economies of scale, subsidies will tend to provide most relief for those who have the tightest margins, which will be the smaller players.

To get technical, have a look at these curves [1]

You might have to stare at it for a bit to make sense of it, but it's not super complicated. Anyhow you can see the supply curve S, and the supply with subsidy curve S1.

The thing is, it's the small farmers who are going to be on the right side of that supply curve (i.e. only able to produce at a higher price). It's the bigger farmers on the left side of that curve (i.e. able to produce cheaply). As that supply curve shifts leftward, the first people to go out of business are the the smaller suppliers. The most robust and efficient producers will go out of business last. Again, because it's not 'smart little farms' that are the one's with the advantage, but rather the big ones ... the subsidies help the big businesses, not the small ones.

There are situations where subsidies might have the opposite effect - this is where there might not be economies of scale. Some industries don't scale very well - ad/creative agencies, some kinds of consulting firms. Creative firms. Film makers etc.. In these scenarios, bloated, inefficient entities can be held together with some subsidy support, to the detriment of the smaller, more efficient players.

If there were no subsidies, the farmers in this article would have been out of business long ago.

I suggest a supply management system like we have in Canada might work well, but it's a hard thing to establish in America.

[1] https://www.economicsonline.co.uk/Competitive_markets/Subsid...

> small farms are being outcompeted by large farms. This was a consequence of the market, not government subsidies

How so? Government subsidies are what enabled the huge agribusinesses to take over the market. The article discusses exactly this point.

> Government subsidies are what enabled the huge agribusinesses to take over the market.

That might be so, but that's not what the article discusses. The word 'subsidies' is only mentioned once, and it's not in a context that supports your assertion. I'm not an expert on farming and I'm not sure if you are either, so I hope I can be forgiven for trusting what's in the article instead of commentors on this thread.

If I were to paraphrase what went wrong with american agriculture, based on what's in the article, I'd say that the root cause was a policy change enacted during the Nixon administration:

> the farming landscape changed dramatically in the 1970s when President Nixon promoted agribusiness lobbyist Earl “Rusty” Butz to USDA secretary. Butz had a reputation going back to at least the 1950s for lobbying for dramatic modernizations to farming at the expense of small farms. “Adapt or die; resist and perish…

The change removed regulations from the FDR era, regulations that were explicitly in place for environmental purposes:

> Before Butz, farming practices were ruled by FDR New Deal-era controls on production, when memories of the Dust Bowl and destruction of the land through overproduction were still vivid.

> Butz became a pariah to everyone but the big farmers as small farmers went bust under the continual tightening of the efficiency noose

> only farms with thousands of cows, that can use their size to cut costs, are able to operate in the black:

So, either you go big, and sell your dairy for the lowest possible cost, or no one buys your dairy and you go out of business. when I said "small farms are being outcompeted by large farms", that's what I meant.

> The change removed regulations from the FDR era

And substituted new regulations which favored large agribusinesses. The article doesn't go into detail about that part, but it's crucial to understanding why, for example, corn overproduction has led to high fructose corn syrup, ethanol from corn, etc. in the US. The key regulatory change was that, rather than paying farms not to grow corn to keep production limited, the government started subsiziding minimum prices for corn even when the market price would be lower due to a glut in supply. This obviously favored big agribusinesses, who could overproduce corn in far larger quantities than small farms.

More discussion here:


Ive tried to explain this to you, but you clearly aren't interested in the reality.

What mechanism allowed these unprofitable farms to grow in order to purchase the smaller farms - where did the money to do this come from? Please consider that they are (without exception) unprofitable and have become proportionally less profitable as time has gone by.

You clearly have no understanding of the economics of dairy farming if you think the farmers - large or small - are setting their price, or if their profitability is in some way dictated by how they operate on an agricultural level. Its subsidies, plain and simple.

I don't understand your agenda in trying to make this out to be something else. I get that this is an entrepreneurship forum, but this is the exact kind of example we should recognise as destructive - not framing it as good business in any way.

EDIT: I should clarify, I'm not suggesting that the owners of large dairy farms are evil. It is the system that is forcing this upon them too. If they didn't do it, they too would go bankrupt. If thats the ideal of "go big or go home", well, there can be only one...

No matt, you have not explained it at all from an economics perspective - in fact, your own stated facts don't support the notion that bigger farms have some kind of leverage from the subsidies over smaller farms.

A 'unit subsidy' doesn't at all help larger entities more than smaller ones - there must be some other dynamic at play.

A unit subsidy should be the economic equivalent of broadly elevated demand.

Either 1) larger farms simply do have some economies of scale, thus flushing out smaller ones - in which case subsidies are not super relevant and this would be happening anyhow or 2) there's some kind of direct advantage the larger producers have in yielding a per-unit subsidy, I can't imagine what that would be, but you seem to have a lot of expertise so perhaps you can elucidate.

I replied to you regarding this in another thread.

In short, its #2. It's to do with volume. By producing a large volume of an unprofitable product you would usually lose more money than someone producing a small volume of an unprofitable product. However, because of the subsidies, this has been reversed, and you now make more money than someone creating a smaller volume. This is exactly how these large farms have been established (they were incorporated to take advantage of these very subsidies), and they have used the large "profits" to further grow. The margins have further reduced, but they are still "profitable" because of the volume.

Disagree. Govt subsidies cause prices to sink so low that it costs more to grow than to sell.

It’s an old one, but King Corn is still one of my favourite Farm/food documentary. I recommend it highly.

> Sadly, like the author, I can't really think of a good solution.

But that IS the solution. Preserving archaic inefficient institutions and forcing society to pay for it solely due to nostalgia is a terrible idea.

But there are solutions: entertainment & agroturismo. Sure, it won't preserve every single farm, or even 1 in 1000, but it will preserve some of then, just as tourism helps maintain a lot of historical sites around the world.

There are other approaches too, some farms are focusing on local communities -- I recognize this isn't possible everywhere, but I bought a whole beef from a farm just outside Seattle. Small farm, well cared for animals, grass fed their whole lives.

It was more expensive than supermarket beef. It was less expensive than supermarket organic beef. But it cut out a LOT of middlemen and perverse incentives to race to the cheapest price/lb.

Yep, let consumers decide which farms should be kept or not, I'm all in favor of that!

Have you read the article ? The "new" way of doing things have horrible externalities that can destroy those communities.

That's a broad generalization, and it seems that it is mostly driven by anger.

The reason you can go to a supermarket and buy food IS the "new" way of doing things. The reason there's close to zero food waste in production and distribution of food in developed markets is the "new" way.

Their farm is dying because it is inefficient. Let it die.

> government entities need to provide some of the funding

No, government entities need to stop providing funding to the huge agribusinesses that are out-competing the small farms only because they have gotten the playing field tilted in their favor.

I am curious if the farmers considered or attempted to become cheese makers themselves?

I would not be surprised to see an American artisanal cheese revolution in the same way that American craft beer's growth has happened in the last 10 years.

The bigram American cheese sounds bad, but there are some fantastic artisinal cheeses produced here.

I have started buying lots of great American farmstead cheese (herd + cheese making are in the same place) while living in NYC, often at ~$30/pound, but much of it comes from Vermont.

I'm just not sure what the problem is. Outdated modes of production can't keep up with the lower prices for a fungible material. What's new?

Price economics are really bad at modelling strategic. America (and Australia) don't want lowest price food. They want secure food, produced from domestic and international sources. If you want domestic food production you have to be prepared to force it, because on price alone, the foreign sources will always win. If its not mexico, its canada or vietnam.

China is buying New Zealand and Australian Dairy because of the systematic rorting of their supply by industry using Urea to boost apparent protein levels. Now tell me again, how you want a US milk industry to compete with that?

Uh-oh.. here comes protectionist regulatory checks on product...

There are a couple mentions of Canada's dairy supply management system, which the U.S. recently pushed hard for the elimination of in the recent NAFTA 2.0 talks. (Note: Concessions were made, but dairy supply management was not eliminated.)

In Canada's system, farmers must buy production quota allotments from the government in order to sell their products. The number of quota allotments sold is calculated depending on demand in each province. Hence, supply does not exceed demand and dairy prices in Canada are several times what they are in the U.S.. We pay a lot more for milk, cheese, etc. than people in the U.S.. The import duties on U.S. dairy are over 300%, and American products are still able to sell at lower prices most of the time. This policy has not been particularly popular with average Canadians, for obvious reasons.

Despite this, Canada has the same problems with many, smaller farms giving way to fewer huge farms, but not to the same extent as the U.S.. Small dairy farms are not wildly profitable, but they can survive.

Meanwhile, the U.S. system has led to such massive overproduction that U.S. farms are flooding Mexico with subsidized dairy and are doing their best to do the same in Canada. Canadians generally view U.S. dairy as being of suspect quality due to laxer laws on the use of growth hormones such as rBST, but shoppers will still frequently just buy whatever's cheapest.

U.S. dairy producers looking for endless market growth are running into a brick-wall of domestic market saturation and resistance from foreign countries who know lowering trade barriers could mean the annihilation of local production and replacement of quality products with ones of questionable quality. Big dairy in the U.S. is rapidly becoming an international problem.

"supply does not exceed demand"

This is a misrepresentation of the microeconomics at play.

However much milk is produced, it will all get consumed, because there is a massive demand for Milk, it would just be at very low prices, possibly below the cost of production.

Supply management is better described as price fixing - the amount produced will enable the product to yield a certain price at a certain demand, and therefore be economically viable.

" shoppers will still frequently just buy whatever's cheapest." - if they knew one product was superior to another, i.e. if the ostensibly efficient market which relies upon information clearing actually worked ... then the dynamics of the market would help solve these problems.

This can be communicated through brand awareness, labelling, all sorts of things.

Yes, as you point out, it's an issue basically everywhere because food production, like banking, telecoms, entertainment etc. - is a highly protected industry.

> dairy prices in Canada are several times what they are in the U.S.

I visited Ontario earlier this year and it didn't seem that way to me, at least in milk prices. I bought 4L (approx 1 gal) of organic milk in Real Canadian Superstore for something like CAD 10 which is USD 7.50. A gallon of organic milk costs around USD 6.50-7 in California, at the low end. So Canadian milk is only about 15% more expensive, it would seem.

I think cheese might be more expensive than the US, but that's not the worst thing in the world. Cheese is a bit of a luxury. Your kids don't need to drink cheese every day; you don't need to put it in your tea or coffee or protein shake.

"How America’s food giants swallowed the family farms"


I think another key issue that encourages consolidation in the dairy and other agricultural industries is the encroachment of automation, a lot of tractors are self-driving and many equipment increasingly don't require human hands. Mostly large corporations are the kind that can buy and invest in this technology and also are the ones who can benefit the most from it, which creates a loop where only large corporations start thriving and out-competing any smaller companies.

The only direction I can see for smaller farms is to probably go the "organic" or "natural farm" route, but even that would be hard to achieve because larger corporations can probably just sub-contract and own smaller organic farms too.

Agricultural industries is going the way manufacturing did a while back.

Small acreage farm automation is what we need. That would turn the tide in favour of local and cleaner food with shorter supply chains with farmers making better margins.(for non commodity crops)

Who drinks milk anymore? I love the taste but haven’t bought a gallon in as long as I can remember.

If you drink milk, people look at you like some sort of weirdo. It may be a midwestern thing but I grew up drinking a glass of milk (and a slice of bread and butter) with every meal.

>Who drinks milk anymore?

Millions and millions of people

>If you drink milk, people look at you like some sort of weirdo.

Maybe where you live. Most places this is absurd.

I’m told this is one of the chief sources of bemusement regarding Americans in Japan. They think we look like overgrown toddlers

At least a part of the difference is genetic: a much higher percentage of Japanese than Americans are lactose intolerant.

Judging by the size of the milk department at the super market, it seems a lot of people drink milk.

Personally, I drink a lot less than I did growing up. The main difference is I switched to having water with meals instead of milk. But we still manage to go through about 2 gallons a week.

Butter, yogurt, cheeses...there's lots more to dairy than just straight milk. Also, milk+espresso (cappuccinos, lattes) is still hugely popular.

I live in downtown Toronto, 3rd largest city in NA. Am a developer and business owner. I drink milk pretty much every day.

If I drink milk, people sniff at me, like some sort of person with lessened ability to digest lactose, who therefore ferments it in the gut and proceeds to fart out the result.

I can't be bothered to mess around with separate lactase packets, or specifically seek out the lactase-added milk.

Also, the last time I tried shelf-stable ultrahypermegapasteurized milk, it put me off drinking factory-processed milk. Nothing like preventing spoilage on the shelf by spoiling it before it even goes into the container. I might try 260nm UV-C irradiation pasteurization someday.

I don't trust that individual dairy farms can reliably control E.coli and Listeria, and I don't appreciate the degradation of the product caused by the high-temperature methods used to rapidly pasteurize in a continuous flow. And none of it is worth it, if I just end up farting all day anyway.

My toddler and I drink a gallon per week between the two of us.

Why don't you buy it if you love the taste?

Milk is required for the consumption of cookies, cake, chocolate, peach cobbler, apple crisp, English muffins with jam, pancakes, and breakfast cereal.

My family uses about 13 gallons per week, one per person.

When the fam was growing it was two gallons a week. Now with an empty nest we go through about one gallon per 10 days absent special occasions. But I eat more ice cream now too, so there is that.

Finland is, oddly enough, the largest consumer of milk:

"The 2007 milk consumption per capita in Finland was 361.19kgs, with milk consumption per person at about 34.34 gallons per year."

I don't often drink milk, but I buy a lot of it for making bread, and other cooking needs.

I'm surprised people would notice if you drank milk, or that you would care. People will judge on anything, after all!

Same, its a working class active lifestyle thing.

My Grampa used to have half a loaf of bread with his tea every night

My son goes through liter/day. When I was his age I went through 2L/day. When your body requires a certain nutrient it will seek it out. Now, I'm not growing any taller. Bones aren't forming, so my deman for milk has also dropped off.

My father grew up in small farm, my grandparents had something like 8 cows and made a living, it was not comfortable but they even bought properties in urban area so the kids would have a place to build a house on.

Maternal grandparents felt the heat earlier, their crop was rice; a typical property would yield 100 x 60kg bags, and that would feed a family for the year, along with a couple pigs and chickens... the problem was my mother had 8 siblings, so no land to everybody, and glad they moved to the city, because agriculture shot up in scale. Relatives who stayed behind had to buy a lot of land, machinery, and they are well-off because they grow palm heart on the side.

...family farms struggle and pay dearly to hire and retain legal workers at a high cost. Other farms, particularly the large ones, pay lower costs for illegal labor and externalize the costs of depressed wages onto everyone else...

one view of the debate about whether an influx of low cost laborers depresses wages. economists and various journalists often take the other side of the debate, citing studies that low skill labor pay rates are minimally affected by an increase in exogenous low skill labor. the debate rages on.

USDA marketing orders created an inflated market and USDA checkoffs robbed dairy farmers to fund pointless marketing campaigns. This is exactly what was always going to happen when we decided to put a finger on the scale for thirty years.


Sarah Taber thread on family farms, cows, and economy of scale:


Taber is a consultant to corporate California produce farms and has a lot of unjustified hate towards dairy farms (in her own words she plays it up as some sort of "turf war" between produce and livestock farms). Her demolishing "a cute lil farmhouse with 1-2 cows or a microdairy with 8 cows" strawman and doing a "corporate consolidation good" song and dance, not mentioning the reality of that being 30K+ cow CAFOs and the unavoidable destruction to the land that entails, is just intellectually dishonest.

But hey if you enjoy her woke fairy tales (e.g. ackshually organic was made by a racist nazi cabal), have at it. Just know you're living in a bubble outside reality: https://twitter.com/_MatthewDillon/status/108419765521399398...

Is there someone else you recommend for learning more about ag tech?

I live in Canada and while our supply management system for dairy seems to support our farmers, it actually sets up a class system that is extremely difficult for aspiring farmers to break into. Sure if your the son or daughter of an existing farmer life is great for you but anyone else wanting to get into the business too bad, you can grow the hay or grain at a loss that will feed the lucky few dairy farmers cows. I bought a gallon of 2% milk yesterday for $6, that is the average price up here. I used to live near the US Canadian border and almost every one of my neighbors bought their milk and cheese in the US on a weekly basis. I feel bad for the dairy farmers demise but a socialist supply management scheme is not the solution, rather stacking enterprises on those failing farms is a much better idea, check out Joel Salatin on you tube for a viable solution.

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