There’s an implicit assumption behind this piece in The Guardian, one that’s pernicious. The tale is how dairy farmers in Wisconsin are having to leave the trade as large herds are more efficient than small – therefore the small farmers are getting outcompeted.
Well, yes, OK, but this has been going on since the neolithic. This isn’t a process associated with capitalism, modern life, the iniquities of Big Agriculture or anything else – it’s something that has been happening for thousands of years and thank the Lord that it has:
With the Wallenhorst dairy farm gone, there’s only one left on the seven-mile stretch from one side of town to the other; there were 22 when Ron was growing up there. “We worried no one would show up because dairy farms are just disappearing in our area, so there were fewer and fewer small farmers to buy from us,” Ron said.
Why is this happening?
At the same time, milk production in the state has increased every year since 2004, and sets a new annual record each year since 2009, according to the US Department of Agriculture. In the last decade alone, Wisconsin has increased milk production by 25%. The number of operations declines, just as the number of cows per operation goes up – 3% of Wisconsin farms now produce roughly 40% of the state’s milk. Milk produced on concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO), or farms with more than about 700 cows but often housing thousands, is increasingly making up the state’s overall milk production.
Because we are, as a society, becoming more efficient at producing cow’s milk. Again, there’s nothing new about this. We’ve been doing so since that neolithic when we first started to settle down and farm a specific piece of land rather than range over it all.
We’ve been doing this with everything too. It used to be that socks were knitted pair by paid on long winter evenings, right close to the person who would wear them. Now 80% of the world’s supply is made – supposedly at least – in one town in China.
This is, actually, the secret of civilisation. Over time we get more efficient, more productive, at doing any one thing. This frees up labour and resources to do other things – so we can move from 90% of the people growing food to 2% and thereby have a labour force to do education, health care and ballet.
The whole process of going bust is just God’s way of indicating this, that you should go do something else instead.
His job requires him to witness the final day of countless dairy farms; his outlook on the future of the industry reflects that. “There will be no family farm. The kids don’t go into it, why would they? Get cow shit all over you, work 19-hour days, and not have a paycheck. Unless the family has old money, there ain’t no future in dairy, none at all.”
Quite so, quite so. We should, in fact, be having a dance party to celebrate the end of such labour exploitation. Rather than mooning over how we’re going to subsidise the continuation of such peasantry.