Agricultural Industrialization in the American Countryside

There is little that stirs more debate today in the countryside than the spread of large confined animal facilities. At a recent Congressional hearing, Dan Glickman, Secretary of Agriculture, said that the U.S. Department of Agriculture gleans several stories on such debates from the nation's press every day. The stories tell how divisive issues, such as air and water pollution that often accompany "industrialized" animal operations, have pitted farmer against farmer, rural neighbor against farmer, rural townspeople against immigrant farm laborers, environmental advocates against agribusiness, all of which have stressed rural communities. The industrialization of agriculture has been underway for most of this century, as farms have specialized and grown larger. This relentless process has been pushed by a multitude of technological developments from the introduction of mechanical cultivation and harvesting, hybrid seed, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and pulled by the growth in food and fiber needs of an expanding domestic and world population. The benefits of increased production, principally lower cost food, and costs of adjustment to farm families and rural communities have been well documented. The Wallace Institute has published two studies on this topic, The industrial Reorganization if Agriculture and Reorganizing u.s. Agriculture: The Rise if industrial Agriculture and Direct Marketing, by Rick Welsh. As agriculture enters an era of less government intervention in production, opening global markets, and dizzying advances from the electronic and biotechnology revolutions, the industrialization process promises to accelerate faster and extend farther. Yet, it's clear that the public expects more from farming than low cost food. These industrial farms not only share the countryside with other farms, but must coexist with an increasingly diverse array of rural residents, businesses, and recreationists. That diversity has spawned conflict. For example, a robust public demand for environmental quality affected by farm practices has prompted many state legislatures to pass restrictive laws pertaining to the perceived risks posed by large scale animal production. Meanwhile, rural communities are searching for ways to weigh and balance these competing interests. With such contentious problems confounding the search for constructive approaches, the Henry A. Wallace Institute's Policy Studies Program commissioned Professor Emery Castle to review and analyze the process of agricultural industrialization in relation to rural development. Professor Castle chaired the National Rural Studies Committee from 1986-96 (castle, 1997). He has been a student and teacher of agricultural development and natural resource management for nearly forty years, and has earned distinguished recognition in scientific and policy circles. The primary purpose of Professor Castle's report, Agricultural Industrialization in the American Countryside, is to offer a conceptual framework that all participants in rural policy can use to assess and shape the process of agricultural industrialization for the greatest benefit to their communities. Those participants often are urged by special interests to take the extreme position of either accepting industrial agriculture without modification for fear of losing economic benefits, or of banning all forms of industrial farming. Professor Castle rejects these policy extremes as unwise or unrealistic. Instead, he urges communities to adopt a "monitor, manage, and modifY where necessary" approach to assure that new agricultural enterprises support the full set of rural development objectives. He advances the concept of "rural capital stock," with manmade, natural, human, and social capital elements for use in measuring and evaluating the effects of industrialized farms. His presumption is that rural communities will wish to maintain or enhance their total capital stock to assure economic, environmental, and social vibrancy well into the future. Diligently considering the full range of effects of new forms of agricultural development is integral to that process. A few communities have practiced this approach, but it is by far the exception rather than the rule. The Wallace Institute views Professor Castle's report as a vehicle for stimulating a constructive policy dialogue and process on agricultural industrialization that recognizes the interests of all participants.

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Policy Studies Report No. 11

 Record created 2017-04-01, last modified 2018-01-22

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