What is a megafarm, really?

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An old friend of mine liked to say, tongue in cheek, "When you label me you negate me.•bCrLf The labels applied to farming these days make it clear most people outside modern agriculture really don't know what to make of farmers or how to accurately describe them any more.

Some folks still think of farmers as hayseeds, a low-IQ bumpkin with pitchfork and straw hat. Others label farmers in the opposite direction: tech-happy, land-grabbing fat cats growing GMO •frankenfood' or hurting helpless animals in their •factory farms.•bCrLf

I saw the word •megafarmer' in a headline for a speaker at a seed company field day a few weeks ago and it immediately caught my attention. It turns out the guy who was supposed to give the talk,' Working with megafarmers,' didn't even know the seed company had described it that way on their agenda. 

Scott Downey (left), a Purdue Ag Economist who has spent years working with — let's just call them large-scale farmers  —cringed when I pointed it out to him later on.

"I have yet to meet a large farmer who calls himself a megafarmer,•bCrLf Scott told me. "They refer to themselves as farmers or businessmen.•bCrLf

Fact is, no one has ever done a good job defining what the differences are between farms of different size. Some of the smallest farms by acreage may make more money than the typical farm down the road with 4,000 acres.

To be labeled a megafarm often discounts the fact that many farms are now multi-generation with three or four families to support. Why, then, should a farm with 5,000 acres be labeled •megafarm' when it has the equivalent amount of acreage typical for one farm family?

Family matters "The connection between family and farming is still important and what makes ag strong,•bCrLf says Downey.

Ironically, farmers are nearly always motivated to grow their businesses into so-called •megafarms' so that family can have a future on those operations.

The economist believes large farms aren't really all that different than most family farms. "The one way they are different is that they are required to be more savvy in the ways they deal with the public," he says. "In my opinion, the word •megafarm' has a perception that those farmers are out of touch with core consumer values, like family.•bCrLf

Downey and his colleagues at PurdueUniversityCenter for Food and Agricultural Business have been doing large-scale producer studies for over 20 years. One surprising trend he's discovered: the death of mid-sized farms has been greatly exaggerated.

"It's fair to say middle-sized farms are being redefined, but I don't think they are going away,•bCrLf he says.

Factory' farm' is another label the mass media and animal activists love to use. It is more damaging than •megafarm simply because it implies less-than-humane treatment for livestock.

"If I was in the livestock business I'd run away from the factory farm label just because of all the connotations associated with it,•bCrLf says Downey. "There are better ways to portray themselves.•bCrLf

How about: "businessman?"

What do you think? Please comment below.


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