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Corporate farming is the business based on agriculture, specifically, what is seen by some as the practices of would-be megacorporations involved in it. It is a modern food industry which encompasses the use of products for the company itself, and entire chain of agriculture-related business. The term also includes the influence of these companies on education, research and public policy, through their educational funding and government lobbying efforts. "Corporate farming" is often used synonymously with "agribusiness" (although "agribusiness" quite often is not used in the corporate farming sense), and it is seen as the destroyer of the family farm.
"Corporate farming" is a fairly broad term that deals with the general practices and effects of a small number of large, global corporations that dominate the food industry. It does not refer simply to any incorporated agribusiness enterprise, although most agricultural businesses today are in some way economically connected to the dominant food industry players. As such, it may be thought of as a movement, which is at times also referred to as "anti-corporate farming".
Contract farming is a form of vertical integration where the farmer is contractually bound to supply a given quantity and quality of product to a processing or marketing enterprise. The buyer agrees in advance to pay a certain price to the farmer and often provides technical advice and inputs (the cost of the inputs being deducted from the farmer's revenue once the product has been sold to the buyer). Contract farming has arguably not resulted so far in a significant improvement in the livelihoods of small farmers in developing countries because buyers generally prefer to deal with large-scale producers who are better placed to meet the stringent quality and timeliness requirements.
Corporate farm vs family farm
Farms are expensive to operate; input costs include farm machinery, crop insurance, fertilizers, irrigation, pesticides, fuel, and seeds. Some people question whether small family farms are still economically sustainable in the United States. However, there is a growing resurgence of interest in organic, free range, and locally grown family farm products.
One major difference between independent farming and corporate farming is that a corporate farmer is usually a contracted employee, rather than the owner of the farm. However, ownership itself does not mean independence. An owner-operated farm today faces many constraints that are completely out of the owner's control. Most of these can be seen in light of increasing concentration of ownership, not only of farms, but of the equipment and inputs necessary to farm, and the available sales channels.
Production contracts are a primary means of control and vertical integration of family farms. These are of two general types. Production management contracts specify the methods farmers must use. Resource-providing contracts require the contractor to also provide materials (e.g) and equipment. Under the latter, increasingly prevalent arrangement, the family farm owns its land and "sells" its output, but retains no real decision making control over the essential farming activities, like crop selection, equipment purchase, production methods, sales channels, and buyers.
A prime example is the drive to constantly improve production efficiency, as measured by farm output. By using successive waves of new technology (in agrichemicals, mechanization, crop varieties, drugs, etc.), output has steadily risen over the past decades.
Although 14% of total food production comes from the two percent of all farms in the United States that are owned by corporations or other non-family entities, 50% of food production comes from the biggest two percent of all farms. In 1900, it came from 17% of all farms.
Effects ascribed to corporate farming
Agriculture is an industry which provides significant economies of scale to large producers. Some of those include Archers Daniels Midland, Monsanto, Tyson and Del Monte. Bonanza farms were significant in the history of farming in the United States. Some crops are usually farmed in large plantations with many employees, to get those economies.
- Corporate Agribusiness Research Project
- Voices of the Family Farm
- Project to Eliminate Factory Farming
- Anti-Corporate Farming Laws in the Heartland law, history, and facts on anti-corporate farming laws in nine US states
- Big Sugar and the Political Economy of US Agricultural Policy
- Montgomery, David. Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations. Berkeley: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-24870-8.