LocalAgMeme1

For the past several decades, the food industry has experienced significant consolidation. This is especially true with the meat processing sector. According to the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service, about 85% of all fed cattle are purchased and processed by the largest four beef packers in the U.S. That leaves only 15% of the fed cattle supply available for smaller processors located across the country. Similar consolidation has occurred in many other facets of the food industry.

This consolidation has led to the deterioration of many local economies and the subsequent decline of communities and towns surrounding the rural areas. Consolidation has not been good to the folks living in rural areas and simply creates greater disparity and issues related to financial health, mental health, and physical health.

COVID has exposed many of the issues related to consolidation of the food chain and created issues with supply chain management, ability to process food, and pricing disparities between live, harvest ready animals and retail prices at the grocery store. A cyber attack earlier this year on the world’s largest meat processing company, JBS, further exposed vulnerabilities in food processing consolidation. The company reportedly paid $11 million to the hackers just to get their plants back online.

It is time to start moving back towards a more de-centralized food system and putting more responsibility, and opportunity, into the hands of local and regional agriculture. In that regard, I would like to pose 20 reasons why a move back to a more locally oriented agriculture is favorable:

1. Restoration of rural economies and purpose. People need purpose in their lives. The consolidation of the food industry has not been beneficial in this regard. Many living in rural areas have experienced diminishing opportunities. Purpose comes with fulfilling, well-paying jobs and profitable farms and ranches.
2. Better stewardship of the soil and the ecosystem as a whole. In spite of our scientific and technological advancements, things have not improved regarding our soils and ecosystems. In fact, they have gotten worse. We are seeing significant soil loss, harmful runoff, loss of biodiversity, and alarming decreases in beneficial insect and bird populations. Returning profitability and responsibility to individual farms to serve their communities will result in far better stewardship.
3. Forging relationships between farmers and consumers that are real and transparent. This is almost impossible to do with the current consolidation in the food and ag industry. Too many of the farms created by this consolidation are actually afraid of allowing consumers onto their farms. They often state “biosecurity” as the reason why, but it goes deeper than that. The fact is most consumers would be terribly disappointed in what they would see.
4. Greatly benefits small town America. More farms making more profits are a boon to small town businesses. Go back to the 1900 – 1960 period to witness this impact.
5. Far less food safety issues. We see recalls every day for food products coming out of the big plants. Many of these involve recalls of several hundred thousand pounds to over a million pounds of product that are already distributed to stores and restaurants. We have not reduced food safety issues with consolidation. More local processing plants that know their communities and customers would actually create far fewer food safety issues and allow for much faster tracing if issues arise. Any potential issues would also impact far fewer people.
6. Creation of more local and regional processing and delivery. These local and regional processing plants would employ local labor rather than immigrant labor, be able to provide better pay and working conditions, provide better safety and security to those employees, foster sense of community and create far more options in foods for local populations.
7. Expedite the ability to aggregate and distribute food to people when challenged by disasters, disease, and other issues that may occur.
8. Greatly reduce carbon emissions since foods would not have to be shipped an average of 1500 or more miles from farm to processor to consumer.
9. Far more types of foods would be produced in each locale or region, creating opportunities for farmers to be more diverse and to grow and raise more foods. Most are currently influenced by what is conventionally grown or raised in their area and do not realize they can produce many other types of food products.
10. Far less opportunity for bio-terrorism or “food” terrorism. The tremendous consolidation of food production and processing creates an easy path for nefarious actions within these plants and distribution centers that can completely upset ability to deliver safe food to the US population.
11. Far more accountability for farmers and ranchers because their customers would know them personally and would hold them responsible for issues. Most farmers today do not know their consumer customers and those customers do not know the farmer(s). Farmers would also feel more obligated to be better stewards because they are being observed by their customers. No hiding behind anonymity.
12. Would foster better communication and collaboration among farmers within communities, instead of those farmers fighting over land to lease and being secretive.
13. Individual farms could be reduced in size and yet be far more profitable, as they are selling to consumers within their locales and would be able to realize better net margins. Each farm can be far more diverse and not focused on monocultures.
14. Diversity encourages better stewardship and is better for ecosystem health.
15. Foods would be healthier as they would be grown in soils that are healthier and can be harvested at a more fitting time. Farmers would not have to harvest produce long before it is fully ripe for shipping purposes.
16. Consumers would know much more about their food and establish loyalty to their farmers.
17. Restaurants would benefit as local restaurants can better differentiate themselves from national chains that serve anonymous foods.
18. Weather patterns would be less erratic as farms pay more attention to their environment.
19. Animals would be much healthier. No more need for CAFO systems. Antibiotic use and other pharmaceutical use would decrease significantly.
20. Cropping rotations would be more diverse. Instead of simply using corn and beans in a typical rotation, multiple crops would lead to healthier soils and foster a better climate and lower GHG emissions.

Summary

These are my “Top 20 Reasons” for moving back towards a more local and regional agriculture and food system. There are many other reasons as well, but just these are enough to provide a compelling argument for change. If I may, I will also mention that scripture itself, if we really dig into it, advocates local agriculture that encourages sound stewardship. I examined what the scriptures tell us about our roles as Earth’s caretakers in the following webinar, “Biblical Stewardship.” I hope you can find the time to watch it.

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