Wednesday, March 9, 2016

I'm the Corporate Face You Love to Hate

Yep, that yahoo with the goats right there is A face of corporate agriculture. And I don’t mean I go out into the world and sell my soul to lie about what’s going on in ag.

I mean that I work in what most would consider “factory farm” situations, for a very large pork company. Said company may be independently owned and run with Christian family values but that probably doesn’t matter to all the haters out there in the world. And fear of what those haters would say has kept me from really talking about WHAT I actually do at work. Not so much fear of all the terrible things people will say, but fear that what I say would give ammunition to the opposition.

But the last couple of years has really taught me a lot about life and helped me grow into the person I am supposed to be. And one who hopefully continues to grow and make a difference in the future.

“Corporate” agriculture is NOT the Devil. There are many complex reasons for why agriculture largely consists of larger and larger operations, mainly involving the reality of economics (and the smaller and smaller amount of people who want to get their hands dirty). Let’s face it, it’s a whole lot easier to weather the bad times when you have the money to back you up and the history to keep you moving.

Case in point: We had a new site being built by a potential contract grower who decided when the barn was finished that our contract benefited our company more than them and that we were going to be out to get them the entire 12 years we partnered together. So they went out on their own and took all the risk on themselves, having never raised pigs before. THEY ARE FREAKING NUTS! So nuts in fact that the bank pulled their funding. And what was supposed to be a good way for a kid to come back to the farm became Mommy and Daddy’s harebrained venture. There is nothing on this earth that could convince me to pay off a $1 million+ barn while also sourcing pigs, vet care, feed, transportation, marketing, etc. Nothing.

Our contract is designed to help producers pay off a brand new barn in 10 years. It’s not designed for you to live off, it is designed to help you build an asset for the future. Eventually you will own the building and make more money. But banks don’t want to take all that risk on if there is not guaranteed cash flow. And I wouldn’t want to either. When markets fluctuate as much as they do, I would want to be making money no matter what. There’s a reason small producers get pushed out.

Prices for pork go up and down (they are just now heading back up), feed goes up and down (low corn right now but what happens when it goes back up?), what happens if your pigs get desperately sick and you lose half of them? So many things can go wrong in ag…and very rarely do you hear that side of things. It’s not all rainbows and butterflies and cute piglets running around.

So in an attempt to shed light onto another aspect of the pork industry, I am going to start posting in detail about what my job entails. It might bore the heck out of you, but you might just learn something. And it might make you feel better about the pork industry.

Because I don’t spend every day caring for pigs and people just for my health (sometimes all the worrying involved is actually detrimental to my health).

Remember, “Big Ag” is full of “little” people too. Ones that walk the line between big and small every day. There’s room for all shapes and sizes at the table of food production.