Ask a Farmer: Should We Get Away From Industrial Farming and Back to the Family Farm?

Questions Moms Ask Arizona Farmers & Ranchers: Response to AZ Mom Question #9

” Shouldn’t we get away from industrial farming and back to the family farm? “


My initial reaction to this very valid question was, “When did we ever leave?” My family has farmed in Maricopa County since the 1940’s, and almost every farm I know of is a family farm.  To further support this, a recent USDA Economic Research Service report explains that 96% of U.S. farms are still family owned.  The report also indicates that there is no evidence that the number of family-owned operations has declined.  While the average farm size has increased, the report estimates that 86% of even the largest farms (defined as those with more than 10,000 acres) are family-owned.[i]

As I initially thought, the family farm is alive and well.  Some may still feel, however, that farms have become too large and are too “industrial” in nature.  We often hear the term “factory farm” used, but I can tell you with great enthusiasm that we are largely the same multi-generational farm families who started with less acreage and cared for less livestock in the past.

Like all businesses, my family’s farm has had to expand and evolve in order to survive for 70 years in Arizona.  As our families expand, our farm businesses must grow to support each generation.  With a small percentage of our population involved in production agriculture, remaining farm families like my own, have an increased burden to continually produce more food for a growing world population as well.  My grandfather began with a small dairy and crop farm in the Phoenix area.  Today, my dad and I each farm considerably more acres and our friends in the dairy industry milk many more dairy cows.  Farmers may reorganize business structures to LLC’s or corporations, but across the U.S., farms remain 96% family owned and continue to apply the same strong family values to production and conservation.

I would argue that through technological advancements and scientific discovery, I am able to be an even better steward of my land & livestock than my grandfather was.  I may farm more acres and my neighbors may milk many more cows than our predecessors, but we are able to so under even better stewardship.   We take great pride in the care we provide for our crops, soils and animals.  Truthfully, I think it is offensive to be labeled as a “factory” or “industrial” farm.  Those labels often come under the misleading notion that since a farm has increased in size (crops, soils or animals), they are now kept in unsafe, unhealthy, inhumane or otherwise poor conditions.  This is simply not true.  I don’t know a farmer that would permit or condone such practices.

Our country’s farm systems may have consolidated, but they are still primarily comprised of families like mine.  We have evolved out of necessity so that we can continue to provide an abundance of affordable food to a growing population.  Our family farm, like any other successful business, has plans to continue to expand and become better at what we do and how we do it.  I believe that without this effort, farmers would fail to meet the increasing demand to feed, fuel and clothe the world.

I am thankful to the Arizona Mom who posed this question and for the opportunity to share my experience as a family farmer.  According to the aforementioned USDA report, “Family farms will continue to dominate crop agriculture… as long as they are able to limit and manage financial risks associated with large, capital-intensive businesses.”  I can assure you the family farm is still here and will be for generations to come.

Brandon Leister

Family Farmer at Rocker 7 Farms, Inc.

[i] “Farm Size and the Organization of U.S. Crop Farming” by James MacDonald, Penni Korb, and Robert Hoppe  Economic Research Report No. (ERR-152) 61 pp, August 2013

Project Coordinator for “Ask a Farmer” Savannah N. Bayci

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