Thursday, February 24, 2011

Lost comment...

I dunno what's going on with Blogger, but a recent comment by Derek on this post doesn't show up on my browser. (The "Recent Comments" section is a little funky too.)

Here it is:
Here is an interactive map I found of large (I assume CAFO) livestock operations across the U.S. You can even click on counties. Yes, the intent is questionable, but it does show interesting trends.
The map is pretty interesting. Check it out. Here is the map for broilers, for example.

But the intriguing thing for me is his phrase "intent is questionable". While I don't want to presume his meaning nor pick an argument, it is a common reaction to an obviously anti-big-farm website. But does intent really matter if the information is correct?

Farmers dismiss information depending on the source, not the quality. Al Gore could utter eternal truths and every word would be suspect. Yet for all the spluttering about the EWG subsidy database, I have never seen one criticism that the data or the presentation are inaccurate.

You can't demand sound-science based decisions if what you really support origin-approved facts.

The evidence for epistemic closure in agriculture continues to pile up.


Derek said...

John, I agree with you completely. I hesitated making that statement, but I guess I buckled to the fear of "peer pressure". After all, I have been following your recent arguments in favor of larger farm operations. I know this website wasn't promoting any radical anti-animal ag views, but I would worry about the intent of such an audience member viewing a detailed interactive map. I appreciate you calling me on this--I never want to be used as an example of closed-mindedness.

Jake in OH said...

Just as a response to your EWG comment, I have heard objections to their definition of "subsidy". Does helping a producer install a spring develpment during a drought meet your definition as a subsidy? Does helping a landowner put in a sod waterway to reduce gully erosion meet your definition as a subsidy?

If you answered yes to both those questions, then you should also be in agreement to change terminology to "unemployment subsidies", "medicare/medicaid subsidies", and "FEMA Assistance subsidies".

John Phipps said...


Actually they all have a common category: entitlement.

A subsidy is a subsidy regardless of the targeted use. It is a payment from the government for some purpose, IMHO.

Jake in OH said...

Exactly my point, John. I have not found a EWG database for unemployment benefits, or Medicare benefits, or FEMA benefits.

Just farmers are highlighted. So that, IMHO, makes the intent of the website questionable, which is what I think causes people like Derek to be wary.

Chuck said...

Exactly Jake! It's not as simple as just presenting the facts. The facts you leave out may tell a different story.

Anonymous said...

I wonder about the accuracy....does Champaign County have a lot more cattle than I think it does?

O in MN said...

When cruising around the website,it does look like a anti-animal website, or at least anti-big animal, but I think it goes deeper. I don't think the efficiancy of large farms is in question, but what would be for the greater good, It is assumed that ten, 100 head cattle operations pollute less, use less anti-bodies, etc then one 1000 head operation. This is not known as far as I know. I use cattle as an example, but it can be asked about any operation. The public needs to decide how it would like all its "entitlements" spent, to promote the continued trend to fewer and larger operations or some other goal. To me a local community is far better off with ten 500 acre farmers then one 5000 acre farmer, even if that farmer has 9 employees (which I don't think they would) Chrisman Ill or any town would look much different if that was the case. Sure you can say that putting those types of restrictions would lower effiancies and drive up food costs, but bigger is not always better. How big is big enough? What would be for the greater good?Will agriculture operations grow to the "Big Three" like the auto industry and treated as "too big to fail"? There is nothing to stop that right now. Would there have been a different attitude towards Ford and GM if there was 100 or 1000 other car companys? Or if a new company was there who could pick up their pieces and continue? How much "entitlement" did that cost us? I think he people of this great country need to decide on an end goal and strive to reach it

Derek said...

O, I've spent some more time looking at that website, and I agree with you. Ironically, I initially was just searching for an interactive map related to dairy cattle to practice embedding links to try to broaden my closed mind, and quickly posted my comment without digging deep enough. Lesson learned. Actually the organization that posted this map offers more hope to small, first-generation, diversified family operations like mine than John ever has. The "questionable" part of going organic, or cage-free, or antibiotic-free, or grazing-only is if we can make it a reality and meet the food needs of the world. That's why we haven't joined this bandwagon. You make great points about the real effects of consolidation on people and communities. Although John has posted otherwise, I agree with the manager of our local coop when he says he'd rather have 10 good small customers than 1 big one. It's all about risk management. I'm especially "intrigued" by John's response to the Feb. 19th USFR mailbag where he asserts that being outbid for land should cause one to examine their own business plan. While I appreciate the idea of taking responsibility for one's problems, this idea assumes the rationality of the contending bidder. It seems all of agriculture is in a race to become "too big to fail" and doesn't care who it hurts along the way.

John Phipps said...

all: (on the road last two days)


First of all, despite my efforts I think my response came across more harsh that it was meant. I struggle with my own information prejudices, i.e. you won't see many links to Fox News. To be fair, complete impartiality is an unattainable ideal anyway.

But I have learned to look at research or data analysis on their own. I accept other versions of the effects of the stimulus, for example, while pointing out their weak points.

In truth, there are some sites that I struggle to buy in to because history has shown them to do stuff like <a href=">this</a>.

I appreciate your ongoing contributions immensely, but am worried about whether posting about embedding in comments may have been a bad idea now. I would insert a smiley-face here, but I refuse to ever stoop to that, so: (heh)

jake: I don't hold the position that just because programs fall into the same category they share the same worth. All are payments from the government to accomplish some social or economic (or political) good, but some are more worthwhile than others.

Objecting to one (farm payments) does not mean I have to object to Medicare for logical consistency.

Consequently, there is no reason for EWG or FB to include mortgage subsidies when they argue about crop insurance, for example.

My point about EWG is that it has become a standard database mined by everybody from Cargill to Farm Journal to Cato. That tells me the data work is probably pretty valid.

Anon: I wondered about Champaign county myself. All I can tell you is there is a modest feedlot about 10 miles north of I-74 on IL49. It probably qualifies as a CAFO.

John Phipps said...

Cripes - I screwed up the embedded link:

Try number 2


Derek said...

Thanks, John. I wouldn't stoop to any smiley faces, myself. You'd think the computer genius that invented the code to embed links could have come up with something a little simpler. It took me forever to post that last comment!

Derek said...

Sorry to keep going on this, but it just struck me that John validated my initial wariness of the intent of the map by posting pretty good driving directions to a CAFO in Champaign County based on information on this interactive map provided. Nobody might have known it was a "factory farm" if not for this.

O in MN said...

Derek, Its sometimes hard to tell what these websites are asking for. I don't think they know the reprecussions of some of the things they imply. (range chickens, grass cattle, etc) I don't think pollution problems are new, they were here before but noboby thought they were a "problem". One problem with this site is the definition of a factory farm. What may be a factory farm for one might not be for another. Heck an idividual might change their own definition over the years. As far as examining a bussiness plan after being outbid, I sometimes wonder if that shouldn't be true for the winning bidder as well. I'm not saying I'm promoting that small organic family farms are the way things should be, but I just wonder if the public knows exactly what their "entitlements" and farm policies are leading us towards.