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Big Farms Offer Big Environment Benefits

It may be counter-intuitive for some, but today’s large farms using modern production methods are easier on the environment than their small-farm counterparts of the mid-1990s. So says agriculture economist Jayson Lusk, who offers evidence of such in a recent New York Times op-ed titled, “Why Industrial Farms Are Good for the Environment.”

Says Lusk, “Decades ago, (farmers) dreamed about tools to make their jobs easier, more efficient and better for the land: soil sensors to measure water content, drones, satellite images, alternative management techniques like low- and no-till farming, efficient irrigation and mechanical harvesters.”

Today, this kind of technology is routine and Lusk offers an impressive list of some of the resulting benefits:

  • Achieving today’s beef and milk production levels using production methods of the 1950s would require 45-million additional cows.
  • U.S. crop production is twice what it was in 1970 and requires half the labor and 16 percent less land.
  • Precision agriculture allows fertilizer to be applied only on areas of a field that need it, which may reduce nitrogen runoff to waterways.
  • GPS signals allow farmers to distribute seed varieties to diverse spots of a field to produce more food from each unit of land.
  • Herbicide-resistant crops let farmers control weeds without plowing, contributing to a 40 percent decrease in soil erosion since the 1980s.

Despite these accomplishments, consumers remain skeptical. CFI’s research shows there is an inverse relationship between the size of a farm and the perception of shared values. The larger the farm, the less likely the public is to believe they share their values and the more likely it is they believe profit will be placed ahead of public interest. The results were the same when comparing large food companies with small food companies and national food companies with local food companies.

CFI’s peer-reviewed and published trust model proves that shared values are three to five times more important than skills or competency when it comes to building consumer trust. CFI’s research also shows transparency is the key to overcoming this “big is bad” mindset. The link between transparency and trust is real, direct and powerful. Food producers must commit to communicating the ethical foundation of their work. They must be willing to engage in a dialogue with consumers and embrace and answer their questions in an honest, open manner.

There’s no question that effectively demonstrating transparency will help food producers increase trust in their people, processes, people and brands. The continued use of technology and innovation that allows farmers to produce more using less depends on it.